Memories are Wrong
More frequently than we would like to admit, we are flat-out wrong about what awe think what happened in the past. Our memories fail us constantly, but we’d never know because they also rewrite themselves.
Just because our memories are capable of remarkable feats doesn’t mean that they aren’t subject to errors that are just as remarkable. A false memory is simply a memory that is real, which is neurologically identical to a real memory, but not based on something that actually happened.In:
Over the five days, the subject began to recall more and more about the false memory, introducing details that were never there, and that seemed to stem completely from the subject’s imagination. He purported to remember everyone that was present, and even the emotions involved. He was adding onto the false memory, not realizing it was made up.
Weeks later, the subject was asked to rate his memories for how clear they were. He gave the false memory the second highest rating out of the four memories presented. He could provide vivid detail—perhaps because it was fabricated, so the details conformed to his idea of what the experience would usually entail. Memories could be implanted in people just by saying that they had occurred.n infamous study conducted in:
Subjects watched different videos of car accidents at three different speeds. After, they filled out a survey which asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”
Other groups of subjects watched the exact same videos and filled out a survey after as well, but the survey instead asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they bumped/hit/contacted each other?” The estimates the subjects gave changed in relation to the verb used, which influenced the perception of speed and impact.
Smashed = 40.8 mph
Bumped = 38.1 mph
Hit = 34 mph
Contacted = 31.8 mph
This simple change in vocabulary affected people’s perception of an event, and in essence, changed their memory surrounding it. How reliable can memory truly be when we are manipulated by such small variables? This was an event that the subjects watched on video—and the speed increased by nearly 10 mph when leading language was used, a discrepancy of 25%.
The ease with which false memories are created is why eyewitness testimony occupies such an ambivalent place in the legal system. Memories can change during interrogation, and sometimes intentionally. For example, Annelies Vredeveldt of the University of Amsterdam states that asking questions about a memory can easily take a wrong turn if you ask questions as simple as, “What was the color of his hair?” or “He was a redhead, wasn’t he?” The first question assumes that there was a male, and the second question is leading and draws its own conclusions.
Eyewitness accounts are highly trusted by juries, yet highly condemned by judges and attorneys who know better. Researcher Julia Shaw states that to implant a false memory, “you try to get someone to confuse their imagination with their memory and get them to repeatedly picture it happening.”
This means simply repeating a false memory or story to someone can cause them to confuse the false memory with reality, and eventually mesh them together with the real account. There is a very thin and blurry line between memory and imagination.Hugo Munsterberg’s seminal:
Christopher French of the University of London sums it up best: “There is currently no way to distinguish, in the absence of independent evidence, whether a particular memory is true or false. Even memories which are detailed and vivid and held with 100 percent conviction can be completely false.”
Our memories are incredible, but the same malleability that leads to memory feats can also be exploited to show great flaws. The same sponge-like qualities can lead to wrong information and skewed perspectives. These create flawed thinking, not out of unsound logic or perception, but if you literally remember something to be different from reality, you’re going to have some kind of trouble. The main goal of our brains isn’t to be accurate or even helpful, and thus, it can be easily manipulated and tricked.