Forget what you thought was your very first memory, a new study says it could be nothing more than a “figment of the imagination.” Researchers from University of London, the University of Bradford and Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. surveyed 6,641 people about their earliest memories and found that 38% had a memory from before their second birthday.
But researchers don’t think our brains are developed enough at that age for us to be able to hold onto memories. They say recollections we have before the age of three are based on “fragments of experience” - which include flashes of people, places, and things we regularly saw in our early years combined with things people tell us later in life.
So our earliest memories aren’t really memories, but we keep linking them together over time and eventually they become what we believe is an actual memory from our past. “Crucially, the person remembering them doesn’t know this is fictional,” says study co-author Martin Conway. “In fact when people are told their memories are false they often don’t believe it.”
Conway explains that this is because the systems that allow us to remember things are very complex and we don’t form adult-like memories until we’re five or six and our brains have developed. So that memory you think you have of when you were two? It’s probably a fake.