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Manipulating the reported age in earliest memories

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Previous work suggests that the estimated age in adults’ earliest autobiographical memories depends on age information implied by the experimental context [e.g., Kingo, O. S., Bohn, A., & Krøjgaard, P. (2013). Warm-up questions on early childhood memories affect the reported age of earliest memories in late adolescence. Memory, 21(2), 280–284. doi:10.1080/09658211.2012.729598] and that the age in decontextualised snippets of memory is younger than in more complete accounts (i.e., event memories [Bruce, D., Wilcox-O’Hearn, L. A., Robinson, J. A., Phillips-Grant, K., Francis, L., & Smith, M. C. (2005). Fragment memories mark the end of childhood amnesia. Memory & Cognition, 33(4), 567–576. doi:10.3758/BF03195324]). We examined the malleability of the estimated age in undergraduates’ earliest memories and its relation with memory quality. In Study 1 (n = 141), vignettes referring to events happening at age 2 rendered earlier reported ages than examples referring to age 6. Exploratory analyses suggested that event memories were more sensitive to the age manipulation than memories representing a single, isolated scene (i.e., snapshots). In Study 2 (n = 162), asking self-relevant and public-event knowledge questions about participants’ preschool years prior to retrieval yielded comparable average estimated ages. Both types of semantic knowledge questions rendered earlier memories than a no-age control task. Overall, the reported age in snapshots was younger than in event memories. However, age-differences between memory types across conditions were not statistically significant. Together, the results add to the growing literature indicating that the average age in earliest memories is not as fixed as previously thought.
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Keywords: Childhood amnesia; age estimates; event memories; fragment memories; snapshots

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychopathology, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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