What is your earliest memory? How many details can you divulge? Autobiographical memory is a combination of being able to be aware of yourself and a moment in time, process the events or facts around you, and emotionally process. Most people's first known memories are around three to four years old. It’s also been found that women’s recollections often include more emotions they experienced during the event and use more expressive language describing past events than men. In addition to gender, genetic marks may also help understand some of the individual differences in autobiographical memory research.
As far as science knows, humans are the only species to integrate their past experiences and create an overarching life story from them. It is more than a simple recall of events. Autobiographical memory is the memory of interacting with others in ways that define who you are and what your purpose is in the world. Autobiographical memory is a type of declarative memory. It is always available to your conscious mind. When preschool children begin organizing their memories in terms of how they relate to one another and when they were formed, they are building a foundation for autobiographical memory. For example, when a child remembers that X was the year they got a puppy and Y was the year they saw snow for the first time at Christmas, they are building a framework for remembering their personal experiences as a story that is arranged on a timeline.
Autobiographical memory is highly dependent on social interactions with parents, siblings, friends, and other family members. As they are able to recall and reflect on their memories with others, children gain confidence in their narrative. Like other forms of long-term memory, autobiographical memories begin as short-term memories that are stored in the brain through a process known as memory consolidation. The more frequently short-term memories are recalled, the stronger the brain circuits in charge of remembering them become. With frequent recollection, short-term memories become longer-term memories and are shifted over to the neocortex for long-term storage.
As the COMT gene is important for modulating dopamine levels, it has been reported that the COMT gene Val158Met functional polymorphism (rs4680) is associated with emotion regulation and cognitive functioning, including autobiographical memory in child samples. Preschool children who were Met/Met homozygotes (AA genotype) provided more memory details when asked to report on experienced events than children who are Val/Met heterozygotes (GA genotype). Therefore, the rs4680 is expected to influence the degree of the remembered event, such as the specificity of the memory, the emotional content, and the number of details of children’s autobiographical memories.
In this study, researchers investigate the effect of the COMT gene polymorphism on the quality and emotional content of early memories in 234 children from the large-scale longitudinal Estonian Children Personality, Behavior, and Health Study. The polymorphism (rs4680) was selected based on the previously reported associations between the polymorphism both cognitive and emotional processes above. In the instruction of the autobiographical memory task, children were asked to recall the very first memory of their life that they could remember and write it down in as much detail as they could. The memory quality is defined by assessing the specificity of the reported event and calculating the number of reported details. Results showed that girls were more likely to provide specific memories and recollections than boys were. In addition, children described memories of a positive or a negative episode in more detail than neutral memories. The children with Val/Met (GA genotype) reported fewer positive and negative events details than those with other genotypes.
This study suggests that in the case of autobiographical memory, socialization or gender alongside genetic factors could influence the readiness to notice, incorporate, or report details related to the emotional content of events and the self-significance of the memory. More studies are needed to determine the mechanisms of autobiographical memory development, understand how the genotype polymorphism affects further development of autobiographical memory, and clarify how it relates to the individual differences in autobiographical memory established in adulthood. If you would like to know more about this research, you can read the study here:
When it comes to brain and memory function, there are many different components at work. How you recall your first autobiographical memories could be influenced by your genetic code. This is one of the many fascinating traits you can learn about yourself when you upload your raw DNA data to Genomelink and explore your report.
Are you interested in learning more about your genetic tendency for first autobiographical memories? You can log in to your Genomelink TRAITS to see this new genetic trait.