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Health & Parenting

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When Do Kids Form Their First Memories?

Study Suggests Even Very Young Children Can Recall Past Events

Cultural Differences Influence Early Memory

Earlier research suggests that culture plays a big part in early memory.

When Peterson and colleagues compared early memories in groups of Canadian and Chinese children, they found that the Chinese children’s earliest memories tended to be a year or more later than the earliest memories of Canadian children.

Emory University child memory researcher Robyn Fivush, PhD, found the same thing in a study comparing Chinese and American children.

Fivush tells WebMD that Western children tend to have stronger early memories because their dialog with parents and other adults tends to be more autobiographical.

“As we know from watching Oprah and Dr. Phil it is perfectly OK to talk about yourself in this culture. But in China it is less appropriate to talk about yourself or call attention to yourself,” Fivush says. “It is more appropriate to talk about events in the context of the group.”

She cites studies finding that children who are asked a lot of questions about their personal experiences and feelings by their mothers tend to develop memory skills earlier. Since dialog among Chinese mothers and their children tends to be less child-centered, memory may develop later.

“In return Chinese children tend to develop other skills, such as a better ability to pay attention,” she says. “Of course there are huge individual differences within cultures in how mothers relate to their children.”

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