What do you remember from early childhood? At least half of Americans say they remember each of a pet, a holiday, or a game they played from when they were under the age of 5, according to a recent poll of U.S. adult citizens by YouGov. A little more than one in three Americans say they've recalled a previously forgotten memory from early childhood, and 15% say they've recovered a traumatic childhood memory.
How old were Americans when they established their first memory?
Only 16% of American adults say they remember something from age 2 or younger; more say the first event they remember occurred when they were 3 (20%), 4 (17%), or 5 (15%). Just 14% say their first memory originates from when they were 6 or older.
More than half of Americans (56%) say there is a particular memory they recall as their first. Despite being further in time from childhood, older Americans are more likely than younger adults to say they have a specific first memory.
Memories from early childhood can later be shaped by stories or recollections from family members, as well as by pictures or videos of important events. When asked about the possibility that their first memory was established in this way, one in four people who have a first memory (26%) say it's very or somewhat likely that their first memory comes from knowledge about the event they gained since from other sources, such as a photograph, a video, or a story they've been told. Compared to younger Americans, older Americans are more likely to have confidence that their first memory is their own, rather than derived from other sources.
How confident are Americans in their early memories?
Most people say that throughout their life, their parents or other family members often (23%) or sometimes (45%) reminisced on memories of themselves as a young child; only one in four (25%) say their family members rarely or never did this. Nevertheless, most Americans are very (33%) or somewhat confident (39%) in their ability to differentiate between personal memories of early-childhood events and knowledge that may have come from other sources (such as a photograph, video, or story they've been told); 17% say they're not very or at all confident in their ability to do so.
What do Americans remember from early childhood?
When asked about events occurring when they were age 5 or younger, more than half of people say they recall a memory of each of three types: a holiday (55%), a pet (55%), or a game they played (53%). Slightly fewer say they remember a vacation (46%), receiving a gift (46%), an accident or injury (45%), their first day of school (44%), or a trip to the doctor or dentist (43%). Fewer than one in 10 say they remember their first steps (8%) or their first words (7%).
How many Americans have recalled a previously forgotten memory from their early childhood?
According to the poll, 37% of people say that at some point they've remembered an event from early childhood that they'd previously forgotten. A little under half of people who've recalled a forgotten memory (41%) – 15% of Americans overall – say that at least one of the memories they've recalled has been a traumatic memory. While men and women are equally likely to say they've recalled a previously forgotten memory, women who've recalled a memory are far more likely than men to say they've recalled a traumatic memory; 19% of women overall say they've recalled a traumatic childhood memory, compared to only 11% of men.
Among all Americans, 38% believe it's very or somewhat likely that they've repressed traumatic memories from their early childhood. Almost half of women (45%) say it's at least somewhat likely that they've repressed traumatic childhood memories, compared to only 30% of men. Younger Americans are more likely to believe this than older Americans are.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.
This poll was conducted on September 14 - 19, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (LiliGraphie)