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Can you trust your earliest childhood memories?

False Memories: Legal Issues

False memories are a challenge in legal cases, as they are indistinguishable from real memories, with any distortion being undetectable.

Certain regression therapies where patients confront their buried childhood memories are prone to ‘implantation’ of false memories in their minds.

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Can you trust your earliest childhood memories?

Can you trust your earliest childhood memories?

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190516-why-you-cannot-trust-your-earliest-childhood-memories

bbc.com

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Key Ideas

Childhood Memories

Memory is essentially an activation of neural networks inside the brain, which are dynamic in nature.

We can form memories as infants, but we do not have the ability to store them until we are at least two years of age. It is also a fact that we cannot remember being babies. According to studies, if we have early memories of us being infants, it is likely that they are fabricated memories.

Memory Distortion

We all can form complex false memories in us, and it can even impact our decision making and future behavior. Planting false memories in a person can be used to tackle certain disorders like obesity and alcoholism.

Memory researchers have concluded that it is possible to induce fictional memories of the past in volunteers and even make them believe in some past criminal deeds that never happened.

False Memories: Legal Issues

False memories are a challenge in legal cases, as they are indistinguishable from real memories, with any distortion being undetectable.

Certain regression therapies where patients confront their buried childhood memories are prone to ‘implantation’ of false memories in their minds.

Early Memories: True Or False

Any memory before the age of three is likely to be false or having some fictional details, while memories that are fluid, coherent and detailed, like watching a documentary, can also be made up.

But whether they are true or false, memories have the ability to bring us happiness and shared experiences with our loved ones.

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Childhood amnesia
Childhood amnesia

On average, people’s memories stretch back no farther than the age of three and a half.

New science suggests that when we move into adulthood, the brain must let go of muc...

Our earliest memories are forgotten
  • In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud gave childhood amnesia its name. The most commonly accepted explanation for childhood amnesia was that children couldn't form stable memories until age 7 - even though evidence for this idea was lacking.
  • In the late 1980s, experiments revealed that children three and younger keep their memories, although it is limited. At 6 months of age, infants' memories last for a day, and by age 2, for a year. At around age 6, children begin to forget many of their earliest memories.
The early childhood brain

From birth to our early teens, we have far more links between brain cells. The excess brain mass is very adaptable and allows children to learn very quickly.

But the adaptability comes with a price. The large and complex network in the brain is still busy growing and not as capable of forming memories efficiently as in adulthood. Consequently, long-term memories created in our first three years of life are the least stable and prone to be forgotten as we age.

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False memories
False memories

A false memory refers to a distorted recall of an event.

They can be completely unreal. In some cases, false memories may comprise aspects of the fact that have been disto...

Characteristics of a false memory

Common elements of false memory include:

  • Mental experiences that people think are authentic and exact representations of past events.
  • Meaningless specifics (thinking you hung your keys near the door when you got home) to much more meaningful and serious ones (thinking you can provide details related to a crime, because you think you saw someone at the scene.)
  • False memory is not the same thing as the common memory errors. A false memory is not just a simple error, because it relates to a level of confidence in the legitimacy of the memory.
False memories: what causes them
  • A false memory can be influenced by aspects like misinformation and misattribution of the original source of the information.
  • Existing knowledge and other memories can also interfere with the creation and development of a new memory, causing the recollection of an event to be mistaken or entirely false.
  • It is also possible to induce false memories through suggestion.
Food Memory

Eating specific foods which were consumed in our early years can evoke powerful and emotional memories, lying dormant in our subconscious for decades. This is possible even if the food was first re...

Chocolate Cupcakes

Food memories are formed unconsciously and can create certain curious associations and preferences in our life. It adds nostalgia and emotional meaning to our recollection of the experience.


The smells and tastes of the past infuse wonder, colour and depth to our life.

Your memory depends on context

If we learn facts while we are doing something, we will be able to recall them better, when we are doing that same thing again.

You can use this information to your advanta...

Early memories are not reliable

Scientists believe that it is impossible to recall the first few years of life. Many of the necessary brain structures for memory have not yet matured at the time. It means that it is physiologically impossible for your brain to remember personal events from infancy.

Any recollections are patched together from other knowledge we acquired later on.

Your mental timeline is skewed

Research has shown that we often underestimate the amount of time that has passed from long ago, and overestimate the amount of time that has passed since more recent events.

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Nostalgia
Nostalgia

It is understood as a longing for something long gone by, with a desire to relive the time, combined with a certain sadness while reminiscing about the particular life event.

...
Nostalgia and Feeling Homesick

Swiss physician Johannes Hofer referred to nostalgia as a kind of homesickness, a desire to return to the beautiful, simpler times.

The feelings of nostalgia were usually melancholia, anxiety, and rumination. It was made into a neurological illness, which was related to the geographical location of the person longing for home.

Evolution of The Meaning of Nostalgia
  • Nostalgia was considered by the early 20th century a psychiatric illness caused by some traumatic experience of childhood. It had three components, cognitive, affective and conative.
  • The cognitive part remembered old memories of the self, while the affective part was a sad emotion, finally moving towards a desire to return home(conative).
  • Nostalgia is neither a pathological state and nor is it necessarily beneficial. What we can think, remember or imagine, is not bound to be real or factual.

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Our perception of time is subjective

How long an hour, a week, or a year feels is something that changes all the time.

For example, an hour spent coping with tragic news can be perceived as very slow, while an hour of frantic...

Why early years seem longer
  • As we become adults, we tend to take on more time commitments. As our work and domestic lives stabilize, the years increasingly resemble each other. This creates the sense that less “living” happens each year.
  • Children usually have no time commitments; they're told what to do. They also form higher-quality memories (sharper and more lasting), making early years seem so full.
Being present in the moment
  • As adults, we spend much of the time on autopilot, with most of our attention on past, future, or hypothetical moments.
  • As children we’re immersed in present moment, which creates long, vivid days, with many more touchpoints for memory and appreciation.

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False memories are common

We all misremember things. However, false memories are not so much mistakes but can be very detailed fantasies. Some people remember precise details of an event they attended, only to later real...

False memories have benefits

False memories are not useless. It seems that they're able to improve our mental processing.

Memories are our reality. Remembering isn't just looking up fact's from our mental files. It's more like telling stories. If we forget, we reconstruct the details, even if the details are false.

Memory conformity

When we remember what something 'should' look like, we will often construct a memory to fit the mould. 

False memories can also happen to groups and could lead to mass delusions. People were shown a fake CCTV footage of a shop robbery and discussed what they’d seen. One of the participants introduced false ideas: the thief had a gun, right? Three in four people later recounted these fabricated ‘facts’ when questioned.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous
  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Ma...
You Cannot Avoid Making Mistakes

Mistakes are really a demand for order and continuity. But the world and everything in it is constantly changing. 

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. 

Benefits of Making Mistakes
  • Mistakes point us to something we did not know
  • Help us see what matters and what does not
  • Inform us more about our values
  • Teach us more about others
  • Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work
  • Remind us of our humanity
  • Spur us to want to better work which helps us all
  • Promote compassion for ourselves and others
  • Help us to pace ourselves better
  • Invite us to better choices
  • Can suggest new options we had not considered
  • Prompt us to learn more about ourselves
  • Make us more humble
  • Expose our true feelings
  • Point us in a more creative direction
  • Can hasten change
  • Reveal our blind spots

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The different kinds of memories
The different kinds of memories

We hold on to different kinds of memories.

  • Short-term memories last seconds to hours and long-term memories last for years.
  • We also have a...
Where your brain keeps memories

By studying people with amnesia, it seems that short-term and long-term memories don't form in precisely the same way, nor do declarative and procedural memories.

  • Emotional responses such as fear occur in a brain region called the amygdala.
  • Memories of learned skills are associated with the region called the striatum.
  • The hippocampus is essential for forming, retaining, and recalling declarative memories.
  • The temporal lobes play a critical role in forming and recalling memories.
How we experience memories

Memories are held within groups of neurons called cell assemblies. They fire as a group in response to a specific stimulus, such as recognising your friend's face.

The more neurons fire together, the more the interconnection of the cells strengthen. We experience the nerves' collective activity as a memory.

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Cue Words That Tease Memory

Certain 'cue' words have the ability to make us remember the first time we did something, which is more often than not in our growing years, or as a young adult.

Example: the word 'Driving...

The Reminiscence Effect

The Reminiscence Effect or the Reminiscence Bump is something found in every middle-aged or old person: a person's memories of the formative years (15 years to the late 20s) are more easily recalled and fondly remembered.

First Time For Everything

The 'First-Time' Theory states that our first job, first kiss, and other things that happened to us for the first time, have an extraordinary effect on our memory, leading to greater and more elaborate cognitive processing.

Example: The first year of college, with its many firsts that a person goes through is more easily remembered than the last years.

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