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A new study into childhood amnesia – the phenomenon where early memories are forgotten – has found that it tends to take affect around the age of seven.
The researchers found that while most three year olds can recall a lot of what happened to them over a year earlier, these memories can persist while they are five and six, but by the time they are over seven these memories decline rapidly.
Most children by the age of eight or nine can only recall 35% of their experiences from under the age of three, according to the new findings.
The psychologists behind the research say this is because at around this age the way we form memories begins to change.
They say that before the age of seven children tend to have an immature form of recall where they do not have a sense of time or place in their memories.
In older children, however, the early events they can recall tend to be more adult like in their content and the way they are formed.
Children also have a far faster rate of forgetting than adults and so the turnover of memories tends to be higher, meaning early memories are less likely to survive.
The findings also help to explain why children can often have vivid memories of events but then have forgotten them just a couple of years later.
Professor Patricia Bauer, a psychologist and associate dean for research at Emory college of Arts and Science who led the study, said: “The paradox of children’s memory competence and adults’ seeming “incompetence” at remembering early childhood events is striking.
“Though forgetting is more rapid in the early childhood years, eventually it slows to adult levels.
“Thus memories that “survived” early childhood have some likelihood of being remembered later in life.”
Professor Bauer and her colleagues studied 83 children over several years for the research, which is published in the scientific journal Memory. …