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Six reasons your memory is stranger than you think

Your memory depends on context

If we learn facts while we are doing something, we will be able to recall them better, when we are doing that same thing again.

You can use this information to your advantage: for instance, try chewing a particular gum while studying.

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Six reasons your memory is stranger than you think

Six reasons your memory is stranger than you think

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20181205-six-reasons-your-memory-is-stranger-than-you-think

bbc.com

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Key Ideas

Early memories are not reliable

Scientists believe that it is impossible to recall the first few years of life. Many of the necessary brain structures for memory have not yet matured at the time. It means that it is physiologically impossible for your brain to remember personal events from infancy.

Any recollections are patched together from other knowledge we acquired later on.

Your mental timeline is skewed

Research has shown that we often underestimate the amount of time that has passed from long ago, and overestimate the amount of time that has passed since more recent events.

You remember an overall impression

Try to describe a person in detail, and you will find that you remember their general features, but the particular details are challenging to recall.

Remembering the overall impression is an advantage. The details of a face may change from day to day, but the general features will remain - meaning that you can still recognize your friend even with a different hairstyle.

People overestimate their memory

Many people believe their memory is better than average. We forget the times our memory has failed us, and prefer to recall all the times it succeeded. Then we proceed to assume next time we will be accurate.

Subscription services can take advantage of this by offering a free trial for a limited period, after which automatic payments will be made. Many people forget to cancel their subscription.

Digital amnesia

Posts from Facebook and Instagram can help us to retain certain events. Yet, our memories distort the past events by remembering only the details we recalled and forgetting the information linked to it.

It may make some memories seem more meaningful and memorable than they actually were.

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Childhood Memories
Childhood Memories

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Memory Distortion

We all can form complex false memories in us, and it can even impact our decision making and future behavior. Planting false memories in a person can be used to tackle certain disorders like obesity and alcoholism.

Memory researchers have concluded that it is possible to induce fictional memories of the past in volunteers and even make them believe in some past criminal deeds that never happened.

False Memories: Legal Issues

False memories are a challenge in legal cases, as they are indistinguishable from real memories, with any distortion being undetectable.

Certain regression therapies where patients confront their buried childhood memories are prone to ‘implantation’ of false memories in their minds.

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Childhood amnesia
Childhood amnesia

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

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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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Memory cues
Memory cues

They are objects or events that help trigger an action or a memory of that action. 

They can be either intentional (a reminder on our phone) or unintentional 

Different types of memory cues
  • Internal memory cues are patterns of thinking that help trigger a specific memory. For example, mental imagery, which involves visualizing a certain scene happening, can serve as an internal reminder of an event that happened.
  • External memory cues are objects or events that trigger a memory that they are associated with. For example, a glass of water next to your bed is an external reminder to drink water when you wake up.
Example of exernal cues
  • To remember to floss your teeth, put the box with the floss on top of your tube of toothpaste.
  • To remember to take a pill each morning, put the pills next to whatever you usually eat for breakfast.
  • To start the day by writing, put a piece of paper with a reminder on top of your keyboard.
  • You can use your watch as a reminder to take things easy, so that every time you look at it you remember to relax a little.

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