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Are memories reliable? Expert explains how they change more than we realise

https://theconversation.com/are-memories-reliable-expert-explains-how-they-change-more-than-we-realise-106461

theconversation.com

Are memories reliable? Expert explains how they change more than we realise
Even our most treasured memories can gradually change over time.

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Memory: The Hard Disk Of The Mind

Memory: The Hard Disk Of The Mind

Our memory is perceived by us as a database in our heads that can never go wrong.

New evidence paints a different picture, and our memory may not be as consistent or even as true as believed.

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The Game 'Chinese Whispers'

The Game 'Chinese Whispers'

In the game Chinese Whispers, where a certain message is passed on from person to person, it is almost always proved that the final message is completely different from the original.

The same ‘chain’ effect is happening in our memories, where certain tiny details may not be what were true, but what we wish were true, or perceived to be true.

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The Audience-Tuning Effect

The Audience-Tuning Effect

Storytellers form a different memory of a story they are reciting, due to mutation in how differently it is told to audiences each time, and how much of an artistic licence is used to change certain details of the story.

Over time the changed or mutated story seems like the original one in the storyteller's mind, something known as the Audience-Tuning Effect.

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Memories Are Malleable

Memories Are Malleable

Social experiments show that people in general are stubborn about the accuracy of their memories, which may have mutated or even changed beyond recognition.

So many tiny, false details have been added to the original memory over time, that one theory says that the mere act of recalling a certain memory takes it out of the ‘freezer’ and puts it back, changing its shape and form a bit.

The result is that it is highly unlikely that our treasured memories are completely accurate.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

False memories

False memories

A false memory refers to a distorted recall of an event.

They can be completely unreal. In some cases, false memories may comprise aspects of the fact that have been disto...

Characteristics of a false memory

Common elements of false memory include:

  • Mental experiences that people think are authentic and exact representations of past events.
  • Meaningless specifics (thinking you hung your keys near the door when you got home) to much more meaningful and serious ones (thinking you can provide details related to a crime, because you think you saw someone at the scene.)
  • False memory is not the same thing as the common memory errors. A false memory is not just a simple error, because it relates to a level of confidence in the legitimacy of the memory.

False memories: what causes them

  • A false memory can be influenced by aspects like misinformation and misattribution of the original source of the information.
  • Existing knowledge and other memories can also interfere with the creation and development of a new memory, causing the recollection of an event to be mistaken or entirely false.
  • It is also possible to induce false memories through suggestion.

Childhood amnesia

Childhood amnesia

On average, people’s memories stretch back no farther than the age of three and a half.

New science suggests that when we move into adulthood, the brain must let go of muc...

Our earliest memories are forgotten

  • In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud gave childhood amnesia its name. The most commonly accepted explanation for childhood amnesia was that children couldn't form stable memories until age 7 - even though evidence for this idea was lacking.
  • In the late 1980s, experiments revealed that children three and younger keep their memories, although it is limited. At 6 months of age, infants' memories last for a day, and by age 2, for a year. At around age 6, children begin to forget many of their earliest memories.

The early childhood brain

From birth to our early teens, we have far more links between brain cells. The excess brain mass is very adaptable and allows children to learn very quickly.

But the adaptability comes with a price. The large and complex network in the brain is still busy growing and not as capable of forming memories efficiently as in adulthood. Consequently, long-term memories created in our first three years of life are the least stable and prone to be forgotten as we age.

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False memories are common

We all misremember things. However, false memories are not so much mistakes but can be very detailed fantasies. Some people remember precise details of an event they attended, only to later real...

False memories have benefits

False memories are not useless. It seems that they're able to improve our mental processing.

Memories are our reality. Remembering isn't just looking up fact's from our mental files. It's more like telling stories. If we forget, we reconstruct the details, even if the details are false.

Memory conformity

When we remember what something 'should' look like, we will often construct a memory to fit the mould. 

False memories can also happen to groups and could lead to mass delusions. People were shown a fake CCTV footage of a shop robbery and discussed what they’d seen. One of the participants introduced false ideas: the thief had a gun, right? Three in four people later recounted these fabricated ‘facts’ when questioned.