September 24, 2008

Memory: The sharper, the falser

One of the most surprising things about memory is that contrary to popular belief, the more specific the detail, the less likely the memory is to be accurate. And while gaps in a memory are generally believed to indicate an unreliable memory, the reality is that gaps are virtually a hallmark of the remembering process.

"People still have this intuitive belief that if someone recounts a memory, it must be true if they display strong emotions," says Cara Laney, lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Leicester. "But I've been studying memory so long that I don't trust very many of my childhood memories at all."

From rose-tinted views of childhood to clear recollections of events that never happened, research shows that memories are both suggestible and inherently idealised.

The rest of UK Guardian reporter Kate Hilpern's fascinating summary of memory research, "Is your mind playing tricks on you?"” in online here. The accuracy of memories is of central import in the field of forensic psychology, as well as related fields such as criminal investigation. So, if Hilpern's brief summary whets your appetite for more, I highly recommend scholar Daniel Schacter’s The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (my Amazon review is here). After reading about the seven sins, you’ll never think the same about your own memory, or anyone else's.

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