"When you are 80 years old, remembering your kindergarten days, it's really the memory of a memory of a memory." — Gayatri Devi, a neuropsychiatrist who specializes in memory problems in New York City
The Wall Street Journal's new Health Journal columnist, Melinda Beck writes about memories, particularly those from childhood. While One Doc a Day doesn't deal with childhood memories per se, it does consider one man's view of a particular time and political movement -- really, Norwood Allman's life in China, cribbed together through his autobiography, his personal records, and the various third-parties, from the CIA and State Department records to journalist writings. Thus, memories, both his and from others, do come into play. And, of course, the accuracy of these memories are always to be considered. As Beck points out, when "a distorted memory is repeatedly recalled, it can be very difficult to tell is the memory is or isn't real." And that's for the person "remembering" the memory and the person hearing and recording the memory as potential fact.
"It's possible to have a very detailed and vivid memory and be wrong about the details," explains psychologist Judith Hudson of Rutgers University, also interviewed for Beck's article. Researchers, according to Beck, are finding cultural differences, too: "In a study published in Child Development in 2009, Dr. Carole Peterson at Memorial University of Newfoundland and colleagues asked 225 Canadian children and 113 Chinese children, aged 8, 11 and 14, to write down as many early memories as they could in four minutes. The Canadian children were able to recall twice as many memories from their early childhoods, going back six months earlier, than Chinese children. What's more, the Canadian children's memories were much more likely to be about their own experiences, whereas the Chinese children focused on family or group activities."
The article goes on to explain that the difference isn't in memory skills. Rather,the difference comes from "how experiences are encoded in children's brains," and that's significantly affected by the attention others pay to them. In this case, according to Beck, researchers concluded that "Western parents were more likely to savor and tell stories about moments when a child said something funny or did something unusual, underscoring their individuality, while Asian cultures value collective experiences."