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SLU professor’s new book examines early childhood memories

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CANTON – St. Lawrence University professor Arthur J. Clark’s “Dawn of Memories: the meaning of early recollections in life” is designed to make the study of childhood memories accessible to the general public.

The book, which can be preordered on Amazon.com, is coming out in July.

Mr. Clark, the coordinator of the Counseling and Human Development Program, said he first became interested in early childhood recollections and the window into the mind they provide in his late 20s.

Himself struggling to understand certain aspects of his personality, Mr. Clark said early childhood memories “helped me understand my issue with money,” specifically his fear of being irresponsible with it.

After that he was hooked and has spent his 40-year career teaching the power of early childhood recollections to students and using techniques he fine tuned with patients.

“People tend to have only a handful of memories up to the age of seven…. It’s usually in the single digits,” Mr. Clark said.

“Every childhood memory before eight years old has meaning; they’re not arbitrary,” Mr. Clark said.

Because of that, not only the memories themselves but what events you remember is important.

“You had thousands and thousands of experiences and you remember less than 10. Which memories you remember is also an important factor,” he said.

In particular, Mr. Clark said these early recollections – the average age for someone’s first memory is three and a half – can reveal ingrained personality traits like whether someone is an optimist or a pessimist, how active someone likes to be and how social they are.

“These kinds of aspects are life long,” Mr. Clark said, though he believes that understanding your personality better – and why it is the way it is – can help you adjust to become the person you want to be.

“You can learn about your strengths and you can capitalize on those,” he said, adding that you can also discover your weaknesses and begin the process of correcting them.

“It’s interesting to understand how this works, but what do you do with it?” he said.

“It gets in the territory of self-acceptance,” Mr. Clark explained, though he hopes people will not only better understand themselves by reading the book, but feel like they have more control over their lives as a result.

The book also relies on personal examples, like his own experience dealing with the fear of financial irresponsibility, and historical examples using figures like Benjamin Franklin and Mother Teresa.

Because they often provide details of early childhood memories in their memoirs, Mr. Clark was able to apply his techniques to them.

This isn’t Mr. Clark’s first book discussing the importance of understanding early childhood memories.

His 2002 book “Early Recollections: Theory and Practice in Counseling and Psychotherapy” was aimed at an academic audience.

But he hopes this book will be useful to everyone regardless of their educational background.

“It’s who you are,” Mr. Clark said of the early childhood memories. “They seem rather innocuous,” he said, but these recollections are important throughout our lives.

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