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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
How memories develop
Rubin Yano was one of the children studied
Rubin Yano was one of the children studied
Do small babies remember the earliest events in their lives?

The BBC is following 25 children born in 2000 and the children, now aged two, and their parents were studied to examine what people remember and how memories are formed.


It can be difficult to remember life as a small child.

But experts now suggest what happens to us then can influence us for the rest of our lives - even if we cannot consciously remember the event.

A Child of Our Time conducted several experiments looking at early memories.

Rubin Yano was rushed into intensive care after a difficult birth.

Professor Robert Winston is heading the 25 year study
Professor Robert Winston is heading the 25 year study
When he, and other children who had received special care after they were born. were taken into a replica unit aged two, none showed signs of discomfort.

But when a child who had not been in an intensive care unit before was taken in, she was scared and disturbed by the machines and wires.

Childhood foods

Professor Winston said good - and bad - experiences as a small child did influence later behaviour.

He added: "We used to think that babies had a low perception of pain and if they suffered, they couldn't remember it. Sometimes, operations were done without pain relief.


We do know that early events that we can't remember can have an influence in later life

Professor Robert Winston
"Now, it's obvious that they do feel pain and we're much more careful about their anaesthesia."

The parents of the "Child of Our Time" babies were also studied to see what they remembered from their childhood.

Psychologists mixed childhood possessions, sounds and foods with others that should mean nothing to the participants, and studied their responses.

Even if they did not have a conscious memory, they displayed physical responses, such as increased heartbeats, when confronted with things from their early childhood.

Doctored photos

In another test, parents were shown a series of childhood photos to see what memories they provoked.

But psychologists digitally doctored a photo of each person in a hot air balloon to see how people reacted.

Het Shah, learning family traditions
Het Shah, learning family traditions
At first, people said they could remember nothing.

But after they had been given two weeks to search their minds about what they could remember, half of them came up with detailed "memories" about their hot air balloon trip.

In a larger study carried out by the programme, again, half of people came up with a false memory.

Psychologist James Ost said: "It tends to be people who are more imaginative and are being more creative.

"You can trick yourself into thinking what you're imaging is what you're remembering."

Professor Winston said: "We do know that early events that we can't remember can have an influence in later life.

"But it's the everyday experiences that mould our children and making those positive can offset a shaky start, so even if you had a wretched childhood, you can turn it around."

A Child of Our Time is on BBC1 at 9pm, Tuesday 13 August.

See also:

04 Jun 02 | Health
27 Mar 02 | Health
10 Mar 02 | Health
14 Aug 01 | Health
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