Head space: why our adolescent memories are so clear
Recently I was asked to choose a track that changed my life, as part of an event called OneTrackMinds. Without hesitation I chose the one I first heard when I was 17, effortlessly skipping back over decades to hook into a song from my late adolescence. I had my reasons for selecting this particular piece, but a neurobiological phenomenon was at work here, too.
The so-called reminiscence bump, based on many well-established studies about memory, refers to the way we recall memories from adolescence and early adulthood more vividly as we grow older – compared to, say, remembering something from last week. So much of what we remember isn’t to do with our mental state now, but about the state of our brain when the memory was first ‘processed’.
It could be down to the emotional intensity of our earlier years, or the lack of banal distraction which plagues so many adult lives, no one knows for sure. Either way, it seems it’s not growing old that stops us remembering events from last year, it’s just that they weren’t experienced or laid down that strongly in the first place.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director ofScience Gallery at King’s College London