Even though scientists have found that due to the phenomenon known as "childhood amnesia," according to the National Institute of Health, few human beings can remember anything about their early childhoods prior to age 3 to 3 and a half, almost 40 percent of subjects in an expansive new study claim that they can remember events that occurred prior to the age of 2 — and 13 percent said they had memories that date from before they turned 1 year old.
But those individuals with cherished memories of their days as toddlers are likely to be disappointed by the findings of the study published this week in the journal Psychological Science, which found that those memories are simply fiction.
The researchers asked the respondents to their survey to stick only to memories of which they are certain, avoiding "memories" that may have been based on family photos or stories told by parents — or anything other than a direct experience, according to a summary of the study by researchers at three British universities published by the site Science Daily.
"What a rememberer has in mind when recalling these early memories is a mental representation consisting of remembered fragments of early experience and some facts or knowledge about their own childhood, instead of actual memories," the site described, in its report on the fictional memory study.
People who claim memories from the earliest childhood years have likely taken a fragmentary description of something that may have happened at that time — for example, a mother telling a child that she pushed him around in a green baby carriage — and they then construct an entire scenario around that description, according to an account in Medical Daily.
"Crucially, the person remembering them doesn't know this is fictional. In fact, when people are told that their memories are false they often don't believe it," said the study's co-author Martin Conway, a researcher at City University of London.
The certainty about these phony memories comes from the individual mentally replaying the "memory" numerous times over the years until he or she solidifies the scene to the point where it feels 100 percent authentic, according to a report on the study by Newsweek.
"Systems that allow us to remember things are very complex, and it's not until we're five or six that we form adultlike memories due to the way that the brain develops and due to our maturing understanding of the world," Conway explained.