What Is Your Earliest Memory? Can Start From the Age of Two-and-a-Half According to New Research

Childhood Memories Concept

New study and a review of decades of data pushes the memory clock back over a year, but the study confirms everyone is different.

On average the earliest memories that people can recall point back to when they were just two-and-a-half years old, a new study suggests.

The findings, published in peer-reviewed journal Memory, pushes back the previous conclusions of the average age of earliest memories by a whole year.

They are presented in a new 21-year study, which followed on from a review of already-existing data.

“When one’s earliest memory occurs, it is a moving target rather than being a single static memory,” explains childhood amnesia expert and lead author Dr. Carole Peterson, from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

“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.

“And, we believe people remember a lot from age two that they don’t realize they do.

“That’s for two reasons. 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.

“Secondly, we’ve documented those early memories are systematically misdated. Over and over again we find people think they were older than they actually were in their early memories.”

For more than 20 years Dr. Peterson has conducted studies on memory, with a particular focus on the ability of children and adults to recall their earliest years.

This latest research reviewed 10 of her research articles on childhood amnesia followed by analyses of both published and unpublished data collected in Dr Peterson’s laboratory since 1999. It featured a total of 992 participants, and memories of 697 participants were then compared to the recollections of their parents.

Overall, it shows that children’s earliest memories come before when they think it happened, as confirmed by their parents.

In some of the research reviewed by Peterson, the evidence to move our potential memory clock is “compelling”. For example, when reviewing a study that interviewed children after two and eight years had passed since their earliest memory they were able to recall the same memory, however, in the subsequent interviews gave a later age as to when they occurred.

“Eight years later many believed they were a full year older. So, the children, as they age, keep moving how old they thought they were at the time of those early memories,” says Dr. Peterson, from the Department of Psychology at Memorial University.

And she believes that the finding is due to something in memory dating called ‘telescoping’.

“When you look at things that happened long ago, it’s like looking through a lens.

“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.”

She says, after combing through all of the data, it clearly demonstrates people remember a lot more of their early childhood and a lot farther back than they think they do, and it’s relatively easy to help them access those memories.

“When you look at one study, sometimes things don’t become clear, but when you start putting together study after study and they all come up with the same conclusions, it becomes pretty convincing.”

It’s this lack of clarity that Dr. Peterson states is a limitation of the research and, indeed, all research done to-date in the subject area.

“What is needed now in childhood amnesia research are independently confirmed or documented external dates against which personally derived dates can be compared, as this would prevent telescoping errors and potential dating errors by parents,” Dr. Peterson says.

Such research – using verified dating – is currently ongoing both in her laboratory and elsewhere to further confirm the answer to this long-debated question.

Reference: “What is your earliest memory? It depends” by Carole Peterson, 6 May 2021, Memory.
DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2021.1918174

54 Comments on "What Is Your Earliest Memory? Can Start From the Age of Two-and-a-Half According to New Research"

  1. My earliest memory is more of an image and a thought. I remember seeing a big, bright yellow truck parked in front if our house. And my thought was “why is there a Cheerio’s truck parked in front of our house?” (We were moving and it was a yellow Ryder truck.) I had guessed it was somewhere around age 2 or 3. My mom informed me that I was about a year-and-a-half old.

  2. My earliest memory is of my father carrying me outside at night to watch Sputnik travel across the sky. October 1957. I was born July 1956. I verified this event with my parents years later. So,15 months.

  3. my earliest memory is being on my dad’s shoulders.We were walking though a corn field he was letting me touch the corn stalks.

  4. Derek Ross Heuring | June 15, 2021 at 9:24 am | Reply

    My earliest memory is crawling across the kitchen floor (I hadn’t learned to walk yet) and tumbling down the basement stairs with my mother in hot pursuit.

  5. Javier R Galvan | June 15, 2021 at 11:01 am | Reply

    I was a toddler around a year old. My Dad gave me his watch and I was able to remove the winding knob. I mentioned this story to him as a teen because he did recall the incident and gave him more background info. Shocked him a good deal.

  6. Terry Hudson | June 15, 2021 at 11:31 am | Reply

    I can remember being sick in hospital in oxygen tent with pneumonia at about a year old. This was verified by my mother.

  7. My earliest memory is being given a bath in the kitchen sink, and I remember thinking “I’m getting too big to fit in the sink.” When I told my mom, she said she stopped bathing me in sink by the time I was 2. So, I was probably 18 months to 2 yes old. I also remember several aspects of being potty trained, which was done by 2 yrs old. It was a wooden potty chair, and my dad painted it and I remember him putting a decal of duckie in galoshes with an umbrella on the seatback. When it was time to go potty, I always gathered several books for my mom to read to me while I sat on the potty.

  8. Seeta Terry Shah Roath | June 15, 2021 at 12:08 pm | Reply

    My earliest memory was watching my baby brother lying on his back kicking and flailing his hands. He may have been less than two months old based on his birthdate being 2 years, 3 months and 3 days younger than me. So I had to be around 2 years and 4-5 months old.

  9. My earliest memory is the day Pearl Harbor was bombed – Dec.7 1941. I was born January 22, 1939

  10. My earliest memory is of watching my mother running the dust mop over the floor in my bedroom. I was standing in my crib holding the rail with one hand and my glass bottle of milk with my other hand. Bottles were made of glass back then; I was born in 1954. I think I was about 2 years old. Still in my footed pj’s; my mom did her floor mopping in the morning.
    I remember looking at my bottle and then at the floor. Then I dropped it and watched it hit and roll. My mother turned to me and said “Debbie don’t throw your bottle on the floor it could break and milk would spill everywhere.” She was a little irritated but didn’t yell at me. She picked it up, wiped it off and took it to the bathroom sink to rinse the nipple off. Brought it back to me and told me to hold on to it this time. Lol.

  11. My earliest memory is a little song my father made for me. I don’t remember any words, but I remember the melody to this day. I started humming this song before I could talk and later found out why it made people shocked and then sad. My dad died right before I was born. So I must’ve been 9 or 10 months developed right before I was born.

  12. David Unvert | June 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm | Reply

    Mine was at 22 months. Swimming to my Dad in a bay in Newport Beach CA.
    But I remember many things through my life that people that were there, my friends family, have little to no memory of. Even college. Even when drinking.

  13. Fidel Angel Castillo Ramirez | June 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm | Reply

    My early memory is seeing la luz like orange red

  14. I have memories of my green sponge i would lay on in the bath as an infant. I also remember my diaper covers made of uncomfortable plastic and my diaper pin with a yellow bear on it. I remember the canvas backpack my dad used to carry me in. I remember falling off my sisters top bed of her bunkbed. I remember playing with my dad’s toes to wake him up every morning. I was under 1 years old in all of these memories.

  15. Beth Novicki | June 15, 2021 at 1:34 pm | Reply

    Earliest memory was at my parents first apartment holding on to a pink ottoman. I was born in 1959 and we moved into our house in 1961. So less than 2 years old.

  16. My earliest memory was at 7-8 months old, walking to my dad, along the backside of the couch with my left hand stabilizing me, while my feet delved in between the cushions. I distinctly remember my dad’s face and the slub of the upholstery.

  17. I was 3 years old in my playpen in the living room in November 1963 . My mother was screaming at the TV. The black and white screen showed as the world turns and president Kennedy had just been shot. This is such a clear memory I have never forgotten

  18. Ariel T Friesner | June 15, 2021 at 4:19 pm | Reply

    My first memory is my nightmare when I was in my crib: A fox was chasing a bunny. Every few steps, the fox and bunny swirled down, as if into drains, then emerged again to repeat, with no escape possible for the terrorized bunny. I stood up and cried. Mother came into my room and gave me a spoonful of Peptobismal, which I liked because pink was my favorite color. Why do I remember that and why does it still frighten me? I don’t remember everything that was traumatizing. My father told me that he laughed when I cried because I couldn’t follow his looping directions: I don’t remember that part, although I do remember how to tie my shoes.

  19. I can remember looking at colors and patterns for an eternity prior to birth. Not knowing anything but that. Also memories from life at 1 year old onward including words said to me. “Do you want a pillow?”

  20. Bill McKenzie | June 15, 2021 at 4:33 pm | Reply

    I remember am event from before I could talk and was in a playpen. My parents were arguing and I told them in baby talk to just be nice. I thought I had made a great discovery. They stopped and stated at me and one of them said “It sounds like he’s actually trying to tell us something” Them they resumed arguing. I would have been about 15 months

  21. In my mother’s womb. Dark, so tight I couldn’t move and the pressure on my body was horrific. After the painful, dry birth, I would awake in my bed having that recurrent event for year’s. I was reliving it as a dream and I would awaken frightened.That went on for many years. My next memory was being in a wooden box my dad made for me and I was frustrated because my zip up armies with fists covered we’re driving me crazy. I was on ton of a kitchen table in front of a large picture window and the sun was going down so I was facing west. I could see my mom and dad and they were talking but I couldn’t understand words. After I voiced the memory my mom was able to describe where we lived and why I was bundled up in a box. We were going to a drive-in movie theater and the routine was as I described. She was always afraid I would get cold and the zip up warmies were because of that and I was anywhere from 4 to 8 months old.

  22. My earliest verifiable memory is of an event which happened when I was 14 months old. I have quite a number of specific memories which happened before I was 2 and a half.

    Then again, I am autistic, and early memory may function differently for people on the Spectrum.

  23. My earliest memory is being born. This memory is confirmed by my mother.

  24. Moon landing. 2years 2months old.

  25. When I start thinking about my memories I sometimes feel that if being born wasn’t such a tramatic event I might be able to remember being born. I do however have many memories before the age of 2 although which one is earliest is not known.

  26. I can clearly describe our house, our front lawn, activities and specific events that occurred in that home. We moved out of that home when I was 18 months old. My parents tell me the details I recall go back to about 15 months old.

  27. My daughter is almost 10. She has a vivid memory description of the last time I breastfed her, which was the week she turned 12 months old. She has described other events/memories accurately from when she was one. Pretty amazing.

  28. I have many early memories from when I was a toddler, including a trip to New York City before I was 2. But my earliest memory is of looking up at ladies fussing and cooing over me and of wanting to put the beautiful shiny red cherries decorating one of the lady’s 1950’s hats in my mouth. I can vividly remember how beautiful and red they were and how much I wanted them. I described this scene to my mother. She said I was 6 months old. (I also talked very early–began putting words together in sentences at 7 months.)

  29. Timothy Priddy | June 15, 2021 at 9:10 pm | Reply

    The time of my earliest memory is firmly determined. Years ago I told my mom about a bad dream. I was playing on a lawn and I rolled away from a rooster and hit my head on a brick edging on the lawn, looked up and saw the corner of a pink stucco house.

    Mom said that’s not a dream it really happened you were just a baby and you were attact by Granddad’s rooster. That pink house was our Cross Avenue home. When I was six months old we moved to our El Paso Place home.

  30. I remember being born.

  31. Sally Bianchi | June 15, 2021 at 10:45 pm | Reply

    Yup, the first memory of my own existence was when my dad put me on top of the hood of his car to take a picture. I can still feel how insecure and scared I was. It seemed like everything around was really huge. I guess it was. It still seems like not so long ago and I’m 65 now. I have the picture and I was definitely about 2-1/2.

  32. I remember some figments of my first Birthday Especially the people and how they behaved what they asked and what they said. I remember a man coughing on his fist and I was wondering why on earth is he coughing on his fist is it a style or trend??
    Other is when I was two and my father bought two dresses for me and asked me to chose one(we meant to return another) so I was making decision of what should I chose according to its price i.e.,which is more frugal rather than shimmer or color.

  33. Phil Lorenzin | June 16, 2021 at 3:38 am | Reply

    I told my Mom that I remember laying on the basinette as she changed my diaper by lifting my legs up with her hand to get the diaper under it…like goo goo gah gah 3-4 months old!!
    She was looking at me in disbelief as I told her that,and told her what color the basinette was(baby blue),that it had a lift top so she could make a small bath in it,and the topper was, I told her what corner of the bedroom it was in,and to specifically tell her where the bedroom door was located from the location of the basinette…
    Same apartment building now in Chicago,I’m in a high chair,told her it was on north wall in the kitchen,second floor,big yard,alley in back,she had one of her lady friends over.
    I remember my Mom and her looking at me in the high chair..I was less than 2 years old at the time,because we moved before I was 2 to Elmwood Park,IL.then.

  34. My earliest memory is climbing a set of stairs in our new home and being afraid to come back down. It is also my first memory of being afraid of heights,very much still am. I was 2yrs, 8mos.

  35. I remember my grandmother holding me up in the air in front of her, saying “oh, is that so?” And me being very mad because I was trying to tell her something important but she couldn’t understand me. To her it was all baby talk. I was only a few months old. And I remember my yellow ducky diaper pins and how huge they were, and how they sounded when they were clipped on.

  36. Stephanie Langdon-Sullivan | June 16, 2021 at 8:51 am | Reply

    My earliest memories. My dad getting upset with me knocking over his glasses on his nightstand. I believe I was just starting to walk. Being fed potato soup at my great grandmas table. Then riding around in a little toddler car in grandparents hallway.

  37. Wow! Who ever did the study didn’t do much research.

  38. My first memory is of lying on my back in my crib watching my mom brush her hair with a pink hairbrush.

  39. I remember watching my mother with a diaper pin in her mouth, change my diaper. Like a photograph.

  40. My earliest memory was being cradle by my mother. We are going somewhere I could see trees above me and bright light. I think I made a fuzz and my mother hand me to my father.
    I remember my earliest days learning to walk. I remember my brother trying to catch me thinking I’m going to trip. My mother told him to leave me alone.

  41. 18 months is my first memory, confirmed by older sister.

  42. I actually remember when I knew I was a separate person than my Mom and my sibling who is one year older. My dad was in the service and overseas. I would have been two at the time.
    I loved my turquoise blanket with the satin edges. It felt smooth on my cheek.

  43. I remember things from when I was less than 18 months old. I have photos and remember things that happened at the time the photo was taken

  44. I never forgot when my two year old brain somehow decided it would be a really cool idea to sprinkle Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder all over my room! The bed, the carpet, nothing was spared. Believe me, my mom wasn’t amused.
    That kid in the photo was me. A photo album of my life was put together and updated regularly. I looked through it several times in my early childhood and I think it had a lot to do with reinforcing my early childhood memories. I even remember the disposable flash cubes used in taking many of the pictures!
    The Baby Powder Incident of 1975, however, didn’t end up as a Kodak memory, lol.

  45. My first memory is of an event that occurred, (according to my Mother) when I was just 6
    months old.
    My Mom could not believe that I could possibly remember this event, stating that it was impossible because I was only 6 months old!
    At that point, I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen with which I proceeded to draw and outline of the scene in which the event took place.
    I detailed everything I could remember about the event. From my position in the room, as well as where my parents were standing, what they were doing, and the items they were using.
    I also detailed other elements of the place this event occured in. It was in the kitchen of our home. There were metal cabinets, painted white, with silver colored handles. And Milimac dishes being thrown.
    I was in my my playpin, apparently watching, and banking the event in my memory.
    Needless to say, my Mom was was amazed.
    The next conscious memory I have is of visiting my maternal Grandmother in a hospital. What I remember is sitting in this big room, like a ‘day room’ in this hospital. My Grandmother was sitting on a couch opposite of where I was sitting against the wall opposite of the wall where she sat.
    Many yrs later I came to realise that the reason Grandma stayed way on the other side of the room was because she was afflicted with taburculosis.
    But, none the less, even being distanced from each other, I knew,/KNOW, that in that visit she and I created a strong un-spoken bond that only we understand. I must have been 2 or three.
    Never did my Grandmother and I exchange a single spoken word!!
    Yet, this connection with her is very real. I am not yet fully sure why she chose to make this connection between us, but, I know she will be there to tell me when time make it NECCASSARY.
    Like all things…. God will let us both know when God thinks it is time.
    Thank you, God, for YOUR BLESSINGS, GIFTS, MERCY, LIFE, AND DR. JAMES CONNER OF MERCY SAN JAUN HOSPITAL, CHARMICHAL CA. !!!

  46. Frosted Flake | June 17, 2021 at 5:15 pm | Reply

    Bull.

  47. Bobby Rogers | June 19, 2021 at 11:58 am | Reply

    I remember my conception. Sorry, but that’s how it shakes out.

  48. Bobby Rogers | June 19, 2021 at 12:04 pm | Reply

    I consider it entirely ordinary that the moment of conception is accessible to recall. And, why can’t everybody do it?

  49. My earliest memory believe it or not is this.I remember darkness total nothing need then poor I’m here I’m alive I exist.I didn’t know my name or anything else but I do remember that this was very important and don’t ever forget this.I never did.I know how crazy this sounds but it’s true I saw pink light and I could hear .Eventually I could determine the voices I heard and I could understand the English language that I was hearing.I don’t know how fast or how much time passed until I could see and know which room I was in in my family’s house.All of this took place while I was in my mother’s womb.I don’t remember being born(comming out into the world,or out of the womb)but my earliest memory after that was throwing my toy blocks down the heat vents.Im going to be 59 this summer and integer forgot.

  50. I meant poof not poor and nothingness not nothing need and I never forgot not integer.I should have spell checked before I submitted .I am telling the honest truth about what I submitted.

  51. Not to go on and on about this but I find it so amazing that I could understand and hear my parents and brothers and sisters talking and at the time there were 5 kids in family I’m the 7th child of nine children. 7 of 9 how ironic.We as a human species have more abilities than we use.We just don’t use those parts of our brain.

  52. Roger A Tils | June 24, 2021 at 4:50 pm | Reply

    I can remember one years old

  53. I barely remember anything before starting school, and even then, everything’s fuzzy. I have some clear memories, mostly from within the past 15 years, but the rest is fuzzy or just not there. Ah, the dual curse/blessing of ADD…

  54. I’d love to hear from experts. I have phych backround as well as 20 years working with young children. I have always been interested in memory. Now, it’s my experience that a certain amount of trauma intoduced various stages of young development can often result in repressed memories along w/a slew of other emotional, social changes to typical development. I don’t like using terms like “abnormal”or “negative”. Not always negative. Or only becomes “negative” because not always dealt w/properly or in understanding way. I was born into a highly volatile home environment. I was always a quiet observer. Not shy. Just very selective & careful when it came to putting myself out there. I did not speak past “mama” & a few other individual words until nearly 2.5 years old. Not for lack of being able to. My earliest memories are very clear ,in depth, confirmed memories , noone spoke of the trauma in my home once trauma inducing person was removed. I did not admit these memories until well into adulthood. I knew before they were confirmed that they were not false memories. It was confirmed my earliest memory was before much earlier than I thought it was. I want to know if there are any studies that focus on effects of early trauma on memory, specifically making memory sharper & specifically on children who are born into trauma vs trauma being introduced after birth. Although there was intense trauma, also alot of love from my mom, for me this trauma was my normal. I am sure i fall out of most statistic group. But I have to think their are studies. If anyone has information on this I would be wildly intersted. Trauma is truama, but it’s also relative. The same exact trumatic situation can be much scarier to a 2 yr old experiencing it for 1st time at 2 than would be to another 2 yr old who has been experiencing it since birth. likely having heard certain amount in whom. The child who experiences that type of trauma from 2 -7 yrs old daily may be much more trumatized in cerain ways,even more stunted in certain ways than the child who knew that same trauma since birth to 7 yrs old. So it’s really that specification I have not had much luck finding studies on. What I’m interested in knowing if any exsist. Sharper memories very early age in children who since birth experienced high intense trauma for extended length of years. Please feel free to direct me to any. Thanks!

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.