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Origins of adolescents’ earliest memories

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This prospective longitudinal study traced changes and individual differences in childhood amnesia over adolescence. A sample of 58 adolescents were followed from age 1-1/2 to age 16 years across 8 timepoints. At ages 12 (n = 46) and 16 (n = 51), adolescents completed an early memory interview. Early childhood measures included children’s self-awareness, attachment security, nonverbal memory, verbal memory, language, theory of mind, narrative, and the early reminiscing environment (mothers’ elaborative reminiscing). Adolescents continued to forget their earliest memories over adolescence, such that the age of first memory increased from 40 to 52 months from ages 12 to 16. The sole unique contributor to individual differences in age of earliest memory at both 12 and 16 years was mothers’ elaborative reminiscing, with adolescents recalling earlier memories if their mothers had reminisced more elaboratively with them during early childhood. At age 16, the role of maternal reminiscing was moderated by self-awareness at age 1-1/2. Mothers’ elaborative reminiscing mattered for the age of adolescents’ earliest memories only for children who showed lower levels of self-awareness as toddlers. This pattern suggests a buffering effect for the role of maternal reminiscing in children’s earliest memories, and supports integrated theories of childhood amnesia.
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Keywords: Childhood amnesia; adolescence; early childhood; individual differences; mother–child reminiscing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Psychology Department, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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