Earliest Memories Begin At Two And A Half, According To New Study

by : Daniel Richardson on : 14 Jun 2021 18:35
Earliest Memories Begin At Two And A Half, According To New StudyPixabay

Research has found that our earliest memories can be sourced from the age of two and a half years old. 

It can be difficult to attribute an exact time to our earliest memories, but new research has found they can begin a whole year earlier than previously thought. The study has used existing data and conducted its own research spanning 21 years.


The peer-reviewed study, titled What is your earliest memory? It depends, focused on children and adults ability to draw on early memories, , from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, noted what was investigated.

Brain (PA Images)PA Images

Lead author of the study, Dr Carole Peterson, who is also a child amnesia expert, wrote:

When one’s earliest memory occurs, it is a moving target rather than being a single static memory.

Thus, what many people provide when asked for their earliest memory is not a boundary or watershed beginning, before which there are no memories. Rather, there seems to be a pool of potential memories from which both adults and children sample.


On the back of this, Peterson has claimed they ‘believe people remember a lot from age two that they don’t realize they do.’

The study offered two reasons for this lack of realisation:

First, it’s very easy to get people to remember earlier memories simply by asking them what their earliest memory is, and then asking them for a few more. Then they start recalling even earlier memories – sometimes up to a full year earlier. It’s like priming a pump; once you get them started its self-prompting.

The second reason is that memories are ‘systematically misdated’. This occurs after people repeatedly believe that they were older than they were in their memories.

children (PA Images)PA Images

This study, which has looked at the memories of 697 participants in Dr Peterson’s laboratory since 1999, discussed a telescope effect. The effect makes it seem like an event happened more recently than it did and is responsible for misremembering when an incident you can recall occurred.

Dr Peterson explained:

The more remote a memory is, the telescoping effect makes you see it as closer. It turns out they move their earliest memory forward a year to about three and a half years of age. But we found that when the child or adult is remembering events from age four and up, this doesn’t happen.


As a result of looking at multiple studies, and the discussions about the telescoping effect, Peterson was able to conclude that people can access memories from earlier ages than previously realised.

Going forward in finding the earliest memories, Dr Peterson wrote that more memories with ‘external dates’ that could be compared to personally recounted dates needed to be studied.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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Daniel Richardson

After graduating from university, Dan went on to work with a variety of tech startups and media outlets. Through working with the likes of Game Rant, The Hook and What Culture, Dan pursued his interests in technology. The skills he picked up along the way are now being utilised with UNILAD.

Topics: Science, children, Now


Memory / Carole Peterson
  1. Memory / Carole Peterson

    What is your earliest memory? It depends