In thinking a few days ago, I happened to randomly stumble across a thought; An idea to explain the phenomenon of how every time we look at a new group of students or a new age group they seem to look so much younger than we ourselves remember we looked.
How many times have you thought to yourself, or remarked to your friends or family “there’s no way I looked that young at that age!” How often have you thought about how “young that new class of first year students” looked, be it high school, college, or even, I suspect for some, graduate school. I know that I can personally attest to having some version of that conversation 50 times at least in the course of my life.
I first noticed in my senior year of high school (when I think a lot of people do too). I saw the new class of freshman come in, was taken so aback by how young they looked, and I remember thinking that there was just no way I, and even more so, my friends looked that young when we were freshmen in high school. A few years went by and in the blink of an eye (oh yes, it goes by that fast) I was a senior in college at Point Loma Nazarene University. It was a smaller school than most, and perhaps that’s why my observation there was so stark. I noticed again, looking at the incoming class of first year college students. Most of them looked like they could still be underclassmen in high school. It was annoying, especially as I wracked my brain to try and remember if any of my friends had looked that young at our “New Student Orientation.” No, I remember thinking. If anything we looked older than college freshmen…
A little over a year went by, bringing me to last week, and my little brother’s start of college at my alma mater. I visited him in his move-in weekend, looked around at all the freshman, and found myself wondering again… How the hell do they all look so young… there is just no way my class looked that young! I remember them all, exactly the way they looked our first year! But then it finally dawned on me. Did I?
From that question, I stumbled upon what I think is the explanation for this phenomenon: high school and college are best used as the examples for how this works because they come in groups of, usually, four years, with mostly the same people for each of us. When we meet all our new friends our first year of school (again, high school or college, or grad school for some. The pattern repeats.) We visually register their face. Then, over the course of four years of time, they, of course, age. We all do. But the thing is, we don’t notice it. It happens so slowly that by the time we’ve all aged three years to our senior year, we use the face of the people we are looking at in our oldest year when we recall memories of them from our first year. Essentially, we project their senior year face back onto freshman year them in our memories because we haven’t noticed that they’ve changed, and that would be nearly impossible to adjust for in our memories. So when we compare in our mind’s eye a new group of first year students, to our memories of what our class looked like when we were that same age, we are, completely subconsciously, actually comparing them all to how we and our friends look “now.” We just have no idea that that’s what we’re actually doing. I think this explanation solves for that phenomenon. I’ll try and think of a good name for it.