Neuroscientists believe that people's earliest memories date from around three to three-and-a-half years of age but many people report memories much earlier than that. It's likely just as fake as claims of repressed memories from the 1980s.
At least according to surveys, which are just as unreliable as science claims about memory.
Survey results of people's first memories found that 38.6 percent of 6,641 people claimed to have memories from two or younger, with 893 people claiming memories from one or younger. This was particularly prevalent among middle-aged and older adults.
They asked participants to detail their first memory along with their age at the time. In particular, participants were told that the memory itself had to be one that they were certain they remembered. It should not be based on, for example a family photograph, family story, or any source other than direct experience. From these descriptions the scholars then examined the content, language, nature and descriptive detail of respondents' earliest memory descriptions, and from these evaluated the likely reasons why people claim memories from an age that research indicates they cannot be formed.
Using the assumption that memories below age two were simply impossible, the authors suggest that these fictional memories are based on remembered fragments of early experience - such as a pram, family relationships and feeling sad - and some facts or knowledge about their own infancy or childhood which may have been derived from photographs or family conversations.
As a result, what a rememberer has in mind when recalling these early memories is a mental representation consisting of remembered fragments of early experience and some facts or knowledge about their own childhood, instead of actual memories.
Over time, such mental representations come to be recollectively experienced when they come to mind and so for the individual they quite simply are 'memories' with content strongly tied to a particular time. In particular, fictional very early memories were seen to be more common in middle-aged and older adults and about 4 in 10 of this group have fictional memories for infancy. The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.
So who's right? Does anyone understand memory? Hard to say.