Memory Distortion - Deepstash

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Can you trust your earliest childhood memories?

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.

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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.

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

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.

Food Memory

Eating specific foods which were consumed in our early years can evoke powerful and emotional memories, lying dormant in our subconscious for decades. This is possible even if the food was first relished at an early age, which we cannot recall any memory of.


Example: Eating a certain flavour of strawberries as a child can trigger the memory or recognition of the particular taste when eaten after decades as an adult.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Food memories are formed unconsciously and can create certain curious associations and preferences in our life. It adds nostalgia and emotional meaning to our recollection of the experience.


The smells and tastes of the past infuse wonder, colour and depth to our life.

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 distorted by interfering information or other memory distortions.

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.