Your First Memory from Infancy Is Probably a Lie


Multiple studies have shown us that our memories aren't entirely trustworthy. It can be difficult to distinguish a genuine recollection from a false one, but there is one class of memories you can pretty much assume is all fake: anything "remembered" before age 2. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, nearly 40 percent of people claim to remember events before this age, but their brains are almost certainly lying to them, Popular Science reports.

There's a reason you don't remember anything from when you were a baby: Your brain just wasn't wired to record information that way. Infants use their memories when they first start to walk, talk, eat, and learn in general, but that all falls into the non-declarative memory category. Declarative memory, on the other hand, describes what happens when you consciously recall things that happened to you, and it's specific to the hippocampus region of the brain.

In the first couple years of a child's life, the hippocampus is in overdrive. It's constantly growing neurons to make room for all the new information the young brain is absorbing. This is what allows babies to learn so much at such a fast rate, but it also means they have to sacrifice their long-term declarative memory. As new neurons form, old ones are pushed out, and the autobiographical memories they stored along with them.

It isn't until age 2 that this growth starts to slow down and the brain becomes capable of saving declarative memories for a longer period. But adults can still feel convinced they remember events from much earlier. When researchers asked 6641 study participants to describe their first memories and say how old they were when they happened, 2487 people reported memories from before age 2, with 893 claiming to have memories from age 1 or younger.

As these numbers suggest, it's surprisingly easy to assume the stories you tell yourself or that were told to you are accurate, first-hand recollections. Let's say you vividly remember dropping your ice cream cone at the zoo when you were 1.5 years old: What's likely happening is that you're remembering the picture that played in your head when your parents shared their own memories of the event when you were a few years older, or maybe you saw pictures taken from that day and you constructed false memories around them.

Memory doesn't become any less complicated as we enter adulthood. Even people with highly superior autobiographical memory (a real condition) are susceptible to false memories.

[h/t Popular Science]

The Mental Floss Store Is Back!

Mental Floss Shop
Mental Floss Shop

You've been asking about it for months, and today we can finally confirm that the Mental Floss Store is back up and running! Simply head here to find dozens of T-shirts with all sorts of unique designs to choose from, whether you’re in the market for a pi pun, a risqué grammar joke, or something only your fellow bookworms will appreciate. You can even use your new Mental Floss shirt to teach your friends all about scurvy.

Mental Floss Store

If you’re just in the mood to express your love of all things Mental Floss, you can also get our darling little logo on phone cases, tote bags, mugs, baby bibs, and more.

Mental Floss Store

Head on over to the Mental Floss Store to see our entire collection. And if you use the code FLOSSERS at checkout by end of day Sunday, you'll get 20 percent off your order. 

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.