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A child’s first recollections are often beautiful, ephemeral and wrong. Scientists want to know why


A WEIRD THING happens to kids around kindergarten. Ask a 5-year-old about his visit to the aquarium a year prior, and there’s a good chance he’ll tell you all sorts of details: the color of the reef, what was in the touch tank. But ask him about the same trip when he’s 7, and it’s likely he won’t remember a thing.

That’s backed up by research: In one major study, Emory University psychologist Patricia Bauer and a colleague invited a bunch of 3-yearolds into her lab and interviewed the children about events in the previous three months, like trips to the zoo or birthday parties. The researchers then brought back some of the children two years later and again six years later. Both times, they asked the kids to recall events they described as 3-year-olds. They found that the children remembered about 60 percent of the events during their second interview (when they were about 5) but much, much less in the third (when they were around 8)—a deterioration of memory greater than the usual. “Something was happening at age 7,” says Bauer.

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