What Our Memories Tell Us About Ourselves

New research confirms that memories are created in the present rather than being faithful records of the past

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Do you remember the time President Obama shook hands with Iranian president Ahmadinejad? If you took part in a recent psychological study, it’s possible that you will. More than 5,000 participants were presented with doctored photographs representing fabricated political events, with around half claiming to have memories for the false scenarios (Obama has, of course, never shaken hands with the Iranian president). Part of a decades-long program of research by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, the latest study provides a neat demonstration of how our memories are created in the present rather than being faithful records of the past.

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The popular perception of memory shows a considerable lag with the new scientific consensus. The psychologists Daniel J. Simons and Christopher Chabris have conducted two large-scale surveys showing that roughly half of respondents thought that memory works like a video recorder. And although many people do recognize that their memories are fallible, there is much less understanding of precisely how and why they fail us.

Memory is a system with many moving parts, and thus many processes that can go wrong. The various ‘sins of memory’ (in Daniel L. Schacter’s phrase) give us the best clues about how this complex mental function works. Psychologist and neuroscientists have taken advantage of these clues to explore the strong links between imagination and memory, to demonstrate how social factors influence our recollections, and to show how memory may actually have evolved to predict the future rather than keep track of the past. There is arguably little evolutionary advantage to being able to recall the past in vivid detail; it is much more useful to be able to use past experience to predict what comes next.

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So why are we so attached to our idea of memories as fixed, unchanging possession?  There are many reasons, but one is that memories are foundational for our sense of self. This is particularly true for early childhood memories (which the scientists tell us are the most unreliable of all). In her striking description of lying as a small child in her cot at St. Ives, Virginia Woolf noted that this wasn’t just her earliest memory; it was the moment she became the person (and the writer) she was. It is no wonder that we resist the idea that our memories are collages of disparate sources of information, assembled and reassembled long after the event.

Bracing as it might be, this new way of thinking about memory does not have to lead to self-doubt. It simply requires that we take our memories with a pinch of salt, and forge new relationships with them. They may be a kind of fiction, but the manner of their making speaks volumes about those who create them. In the Obama-Ahmadinejad study, the researchers found that events were more likely to be falsely recalled if they fit the individual’s political affiliations (conservatives were more likely than liberals to ‘remember’ the Ahmadinejad handshake, for example). Whether the events happened or not, your biases and beliefs shape the kind of memories you form, and thus reveal the kind of person you are.

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69 comments
blackswede
blackswede

Oh, this is crap, at least in my book. My first memories began when I remembered age three. Most of them are correct. When my mother was alive, and I was much older. I would ask her certain things that I remembered as a child, and for the most part, she said that I was right. The sad thing about Americans is that they have such a short memory span, or a bad education. I meet some young Americans who think of the 80s as  the "old days."

Sculptor Jerry Harris

San Francisco, Ca. www.harrisculptor.com

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

Mine tell me enough. That's all that I know. :/

JJ Young
JJ Young

Subconsciously or actively altering a memory to a version that sits better with our views, defends our position or allows us to heal from trauma would seem like a very adaptive trait for the human mind to have.

Adriano Emídio
Adriano Emídio

I had much good moments during all my life. Lots of pictures that I still make me feel good and what could I tell about my childhood? It was amazing, when I started at college as well. So, God ever knows what is better for everyone!!!

Zafar Kayani
Zafar Kayani

In Diplomatic relationship it often happens

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

That Lucifer would have been hard pressed to top this?

scdorn
scdorn

%s Stalking %s %s %s %s %s %s %s %s %s G'Morning

Georgina_Platt
Georgina_Platt

%s %s Really interesting takes me back to my 3rd year psychology project %sry

eetom
eetom

Our memories are not retentive but are selective and creative.  Life being full of unpleasant and even tragic experiences, a perfect or even a nearly perfect memory is a cruel gift which we are fortunately deprived of.

BiancaAnastacia
BiancaAnastacia

What our memories tell us about ourselves | %sp43 v%se%si%sogy

jyotsnadevi33
jyotsnadevi33

@ParamjitGarewal 

@12vinita  GOOD AFTERNOON TO ALL

Robinson.W.Marte.R
Robinson.W.Marte.R

I wrote the idea that neurons function as the "Turing Machine" or a neuron is a complex concatenation of Turing machines and information processing in reading them and saving them "tapes" of proteins or "marks" molecular chains DNA. And my idea has become more dazzling me, for me of course, after they have published several scientific teams have recorded achievements in music and texts DNA chains as molecular brands in the mines and then been able to play, then I say that the memory is stored on tapes or markings proeteínicas DNA strands that are read and rewritten by Turing machines or very similar to them within neurons, that model and mine is coming largely resolves what is published in this article by Charles Fernyhough; neurons, being complex Turing, read and write about molecular tapes and besides it, the tapes protein or DNA strands could have information "indexed", "scheduled" and "orderly" so that access to it, being tape Turing machines, is a very quick and accurate, although it seems contrary, but if you think about the huge amount of information is stored to remember for example the smell of Chanel # 5, one might maginar that the system is very fast and accurate. My idea though is great but well, you could serve a cinematic argument. Translated from Spanish by Google. 

sheilaaj
sheilaaj

%s Lol%sc%sr%si%so%sx%sm%sd%squand

Robinson.W.Marte.R
Robinson.W.Marte.R

Read these paragraphs from Wikipedia:

"The thesis states that Turing machines indeed capture the informal notion of effective method in logic and mathematics, and provide a precise definition of an algorithm or "mechanical procedure".

Studying their abstract properties yield many insights into computer science and complexity theory."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

You could read it!:

"Studying their abstract properties yield many insights into computer science and complexity theory."

I have done exactly that!I used this machine perspectively for extremely complex system as a theory in the field of fantasy!

Robinson.W.Marte.R
Robinson.W.Marte.R

He escrito la idea de que las neuronas funcionan como la "Máquina de Turing" o, que una neurona es un complejo concatenado de máquinas de Turing y que procesa la información leyéndolas y guardándolas en "cintas" de proteínas o "marcas" moleculares en cadenas de ADN. Y mi idea se me ha vuelto más deslumbrante, para mí claro está, luego de que varios equipos científicos han publicado los logros de haber grabado música y textos en cadenas de ADN como marcas moleculares en las mimas y que luego las han podido reproducir, entonces, digo que la Memoria se guarda en cintas proteínicas o marcas en cadenas de ADN y que son leídas y reescritas por máquinas de Turing o muy parecidas a ellas dentro de las neuronas; ese modelo mío se acerca y resuelve en gran medida lo que se publica en este artículo de Charles Fernyhough; las neuronas, siendo complejos de Turing, leen y escriben sobre cintas moleculares y además que éstas, las cintas proteínicas o cadenas de ADN, podrían tener la información "indexada", "catalogada" y "ordenada" de tal modo que el acceso a la misma, siendo cintas de máquinas de Turing, se hace de manera muy rápida y precisa, aunque parezca lo contrario  pero si se piensa en el enorme cúmulo de información que se guarda para recordar por ejemplo el olor del Chanel #5, unos se podría maginar que el sistema es bien rápido y preciso. Mi idea aunque es bien fantástica pero quizás pueda servir para un argumento cinematográfico.

Léase estos párrafos de la Wikipedia:

"La tesis señala que las máquinas de Turing de hecho capturan la noción informal de un método eficaz en la lógica y las matemáticas y proporcionan una precisa definición de un algoritmo o "procedimiento mecánico".

Estudiando sus propiedades abstractas, la máquina de Turing produce muchas perspectivas en las ciencias de la computación y en lateoría de la complejidad."

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A1quina_de_Turing

¡Usted lo pudo leer!:

"La tesis señala que las máquinas de Turing de hecho capturan la noción informal de un método eficaz en la lógica y las matemáticas y proporcionan una precisa definición de un algoritmo o "procedimiento mecánico".

Estudiando sus propiedades abstractas, la máquina de Turing produce muchas perspectivas en las ciencias de la computación y en la teoría de la complejidad." 

¡ESO EXACTAMENTE HE HECHO YO! ¡He usado perspectivamente esa máquina en un sistema en extremo complejo como una teoría en el campo de lo fantástico!