Fictional First Memories
In the present study we conducted the first large-scale web-based survey of first memories (rather than the more general category of early memories Thus, the key variable in the present study was respondents’ estimates of their age when their first memory was formed: age at encoding (AaE). Moreover, because this was a large-scale study we were able to sample across the full age range and draw on the general population. Uniquely, the survey was linked to a popular series of radio programs on memory produced and broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4 in the United Kingdom (2007).
The fourth author introduced the idea that the program would conduct a memory survey of various type of memories (earliest, self-defining, and flashbulb memories) and report the results of the survey in a later program. The audience were invited to log into a memory web site hosted by the BBC that contained various sources of information about memory and separate questionnaires for each of the three types of memories-to-be sampled. The questionnaires always began with an information page outlining key instructions regarding the nature of the to-be-sampled memory, an informed consent box to be checked, and minimal demographic data was collected (age, gender, county of residence in the UK and years in education, see Supplemental Materials). Respondents were also informed that after recalling their earliest memory they would be asked to answer some questions about the memory. For these questions they were instructed not to guess or infer answers but to only answer if they actually remembered the answer.
Respondents then moved to the next page of the questionnaire proper. They were instructed to recall and then type a title and description (in the box provided) of their very earliest memory. The title was to be only a few words in length but of sufficient specificity that if they read it again it would remind them of the memory they had recalled . The memory description was to be about a paragraph or so in lengthThe 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. The memory had to be for a specific one-off event that lasted no longer than minutes/hours. It was specifically emphasised that the memory should not be of a routine or repeated event. After entering the title and memory description respondents were then asked to enter, in years, the age they believed they were in the memory. Following this, the respondents answered a series of questions regarding the recollective qualities of the memory (see Supplemental Materials for details).