Q. When four of us shared memories of our very young lives, not one of us could recall events before the age of 4 or possibly 3. Is this common?
A. Yes. For adults, remembering events only after age 3½ or 4 is typical, studies have found. The phenomenon was named childhood amnesia by Freud and identified late in the 19th century by the pioneering French researcher Victor Henri and his wife, Catherine.
The Henris published a questionnaire on early memories in 1895, and the results from 123 people were published in 1897. Most of the participants’ earliest memories came from when they were 2 to 4 years old; the average was age 3. Very few participants recalled events from the first year of life. Many subsequent studies found similar results.
Several theories have been offered to explain the timing of laying down permanent memories. One widely studied idea relates the formation of children’s earliest memories to when they start talking about past events with their mothers, suggesting a link between memories and the age of language acquisition.
More recent studies, in 2010 and 2014, found discrepancies in the accuracy of young children’s estimates of when things had occurred in their lives. Another 2014 study found a progressive loss of recall as a child ages, with 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds remembering 60 percent or more of some early-life events that were discussed at age 3, while 8- and 9-year-olds remembered only 40 percent of these events. firstname.lastname@example.org