Perhaps your earliest memory is of a happy time on holiday, or a traumatic event such as a bad fall.
But if that memory is from before the age of two, it’s almost certainly fictional, researchers said.
For the 40% of us who believe we remember an event from our first two years, we have likely created it falsely after seeing photos or hearing recollections from others.
That’s because our brains have not developed the ability to remember anything before this age, it is claimed. So even though you might swear blind you can recall going on holiday while still in nappies, you are probably wrong.
In the largest study on early memory, 6641 people were questioned about their first recollection. They were told the memory should not be linked to photos of themselves, a family story, or any other source apart from direct experience.
The authors said 60% of first memories were from the average age of 3.24 years, matching research showing this is when we develop the mental faculties to form memories.
But nearly 2487 of people claimed to have memories from between the age of one and two. And 893 claimed their first memory was from their first year, an “astonishingly” high number, the authors said.
These memories included “the first time I walked”, “wanting to tell my mother something before I could talk”, and “the first word I spoke”.
The authors said for older people, impossibly early memories could be explained by a need to “complete” the story of their life to stretch back to their earliest years. Analysing the memories, the authors said 52% of memories from below the age of two were of “lying in my pram”.
They said 30% were about family relationships such as “my parents were going on holiday” and a further 18% remembered “feeling sad”. For “probable memories” above the age of two, 20% of people remembered toys, 16% recalled the birth of a sibling, 15% remembered school, and 11% remembered holidays.
Professor Martin Conway, of City, University of London and co-author of the paper, said: “It’s not until we’re five or six that we form adult-like memories due to the way that the brain develops.”