Fictional early memories and induced autobiographical memories

“Can you trust your earliest childhood memories?”

The moments we remember from the first years of our lives are often our most treasured because we have carried them longest. The chances are, they are also completely made up.

Around four out of every 10 of us have fabricated our first memory, according to researchers. This is thought to be because our brains do not develop the ability to store autobiographical memories at least until we reach two years old.

Memory researchers have shown it is possible to induce fictional autobiographical memories in volunteers, including accounts of getting lost in a shopping mall and even having tea with a member of the Royal Family. Julia Shaw, a psychological scientist at University College London, has even shown it is possible to convince people that they committed a violent crime that never happened. Using memory retrieval techniques, participants were asked leading questions over three interviews, which led to 70% of them generating a false memory of a crime they commited when they were younger, with some even believing they had assaulted someone with a weapon. Almost three-quarters with these false memories could even provide vivid descriptions of what police officers looked like.