Our earliest memory can shape our lives, but new research suggests that many are false. Here, writers and readers reflect on their earliest recollections
It starts as a dreamy state of dizzying vertigo, and then I rattle, headfirst, down the wooden stairs. Falling down the white-painted (I think), definitely uncarpeted stairs of our first house is my first memory, and I must have been around two. But is it real? A new study suggests not, and if you can remember lying in your pram/taking your first steps/having your nappy changed, then you are almost certainly wrong, too.
In a survey of more than 6,600 people, published in Psychological Science, researchers found that 40% of people believe they have a first memory from when they were two or even younger, even though evidence suggests it is not possible for memories from this age to be retained. Around three to three-and-a-half seems to be the agreed age of a first memory, although Martin Conway, the study’s co-author and director of the Centre for Memory and Law at City, University of London, has said it’s “not until we’re five or six that we form adult-like memories due to the way that the brain develops and due to our maturing understanding of the world”.