Wise-up Wednesday: Why Memory is Fallible

Monet Lillies 2011

According to Reader’s Digest’s No More Brain Drain our memories are more like impressionist paintings than true photographs of events.

Perception: We all remember events differently because we perceive them differently in the first place.  Perhaps at your last work party you had a head cold and your sense of taste was dulled.  Your coworkers rave about how awesome the caterer was, but you barely remember the food, but have vivid memories of the elaborate colorful decorations.   Your sensory memory is unique to you and can never be replicated by anyone else, therefore it strongly colors your version of reality.

Interpretation: Your  emotions, experiences,  and memories will all cause you to interpret events in your own unique way, and therefore skew how you remember them.  So if your co-worker gives a long impassioned political monologue, how you remember it will depend on whether you agreed with his viewpoint.  If you did not, chances are high that you stopped paying attention, or were distracted because you were thinking of your counter responses while he was still speaking.

Recall:  While you do technically have a perfect memory path on your brain, your ability to accurately retrace the same path can sometimes be a little foggy.  The process of calling up the information from its disparate locations in the brain requires the brain to fill in blank spots.  Consider this story:  A woman was going through a family photo album with her mom.  They came to a picture of a young girl on a pony and the woman launched into her vivid memory of that day, much to the surprise of her mom.  “But, honey,” her mom said, “that is your sister.  You were not born yet.”  The woman had seen the photo previously and just assumed she was the one on the pony, and her brain filled in the details based on the photo alone.

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