Remember when…

I often find myself debating the validity of other people’s memories and experiences. Not because my memory is superior — precisely the opposite. I have been wrong, and that wrongness has led me to question, brutally honestly, memories I think I know quite well. I’ve not only been wrong, but I’ve caught my memories “changing” over time… I have found myself enhancing them (consciously) and then, later, not knowing what in the retelling is an enhancement and what is “real”… 

And folks always seem quite willing to agree with me that people’s memories are faulty or false or susceptible to all types of morphing and misinterpretation… except when it comes to their own. We often seem to think that when we remember something clearly and vividly, that it must be accurate… 

This article, Brain quirk makes eyewitnesses less reliable, is yet another experiment, run under controlled conditions that shows sometimes you just can’t trust your own brain.  It turns out that, “If you recall an event earlier, you increase susceptibility to misinformation.” 

When subjects recalled a memory soon after an event, they were more likely to get details wrong when asked to recall it again later. Folks who were only asked to recall the memory later, were more accurate. Researchers posit that the initial recalling may have made the memory “malleable” and therefore more apt to being incorrect in the second recalling.

The results seem counter-intuitive — at least that’s how I remember feeling when I read the article — but it does give us one more reason to question the things we think we know…

2 Responses

  1. I think that in some situations our memories can be attached to a heightened adrenaline or some other emotion that helps skew the immediate memory. Five eye witnesses to the same crime can have 5 completely different descriptions of the suspect in the heat of the moment. Once the adrenaline bursts subside and one can return to their “normal”, unheightened sense of alert they are better able to weed through what’s really there and what’s not. Countless times I wake from a nightmare and the fear is still so real I can’t separate my dream from real life, my heart pumps wildly, covered in sweat. Until I calm down and then I realize how completely irrational my fear at that time was.

    I find it really interesting that a compulsive liar is often time telling the truth as they perceive it, in that they believe or need their lie to be true so badly that in their mind, it becomes a real memory. That’s why I often question who’s truth should we go by. I’ve often heard that there are 3 sides to every story: his side, her side, and what really happened.

  2. I think Megan raised a great point here in regards to memories being attached to heightened adrenaline, particuarly in relation to a crime. (in my situation, the fear was worse after the fact since at that time I could play the all the “what if” scenarios).

    And I would definitly agree that memories are malleable, after telling the story so many times and having to answer questions regarding it I am pretty certain that my memory of some details of this event have changed. I would say that additional details to the event have been constructed in my mind. This may be a defense mechanism or it could simply be laziness as to not have to explain the “gaps” when telling the story.

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