If I was to ask you to recall your first memory, what would it be? Maybe you remember being pushed in your pram, playing with a favourite toy or maybe something more dramatic – your first fall? Well, it turns out it may not be a memory at all. What many people class as their first memory is probably completely fabricated.
To understand this we need to know how memories are made. Well, our brain converts events into electrical pulses which move along neurons then send messages to each other – and the network is huge: 100 billion neurons. When the same two neurons repeatedly communicate their bond becomes more efficient forming long-term memories. The strongest memories are made when we are really focused and paying attention.
A recent study was conducted at the University of London to determine the age when people made their first memory. Over 6,000 participants were asked to detail their earliest memory and their age when it happened. For most people, the first memory occurs between the ages of two and five – the average being three years.
Generally, it is understood that little to no memories occur below the age of about two years. However, almost 40 per cent of participants stated that their first memory occurred at this time. Incredibly, over one in 10 stated their first memory occurred before they turned one.
One reason could be because people are misdating their memories; believing they occurred earlier than they did. However, it is believed that many very early memories are fictional – although not necessarily purposely made up. It is most likely that the memories are based around objects or photos or stories told, possibly some remembered fragments, with details subconsciously added to make the memory whole.
This may be why older people tended to believe their first memory occurred at an earlier age than younger people. The further people are from childhood, the more fictional details they need to fill in.
No matter how early you recall your first memory, one thing is known – memory gets worse with age. This is because neurons start to deteriorate and other factors such as depression and chronic stress can cause memory problems. But it is not all bad news. As the common saying goes – if you don’t use it, you lose it. Keeping physically active, eating well and giving your brain new challenges, such as learning a new language, all help keep your memory in working order.
• Scientists have modified tobacco plants to make them ‘glow’ in the presence of disease-causing bacteria. The plants were genetically modified so that they would produce more of a fluorescent protein when they encountered the bacteria, making them fluoresce orange. It was then possible to tell if the bacteria was present simply by viewing the plants using light-filtering goggles. The hope is that other plants can be modified in a similar way for the detection harmful airborne chemicals from moulds to viruses.
• Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has 10 more moons than previously thought. The new moons were discovered last year by astronomers. They are all miniature moons, no larger than three kilometres in diameter. It is thought that these ‘moonlets’ are the result of larger moons colliding with space debris, such as comets or other moons. The finding brings the grand total of moons around Jupiter up to 79, putting our own one to shame.
For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta every Saturday at 11.05am.
Did you know?
• Cleopatra lived closer in time to the moon landing than the construction of the pyramids.
• The woolly mammoth was still around when the pyramids were being built.
• The human brain makes up about two per cent of entire body weight.
• The acid in your stomach can dissolve metal.
• Tongue prints are as unique as fingerprints.
For more trivia see: www.um.edu.mt/think.
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