Posted June 3, 2014
Think back through the years. How many memories of events can you recall from one year ago? What about things that happened five or 10 years ago? Many people believe that memory is similar to a recorder that captures and stores experiences. But new research demonstrates that memory does not perfectly record everything that happens.
Memory edits and reframes events
Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine discovered that memory does not accurately collect experiences. Instead it pulls out pieces of stored information and inserts new events. For example, researchers report that the idea of love at first sight is likely a memory trick. You may recollect feelings of love and excitement for someone when, in fact, you project current feelings into your initial meeting. The memory reframes and edits events to create a story of current life.
For the study, researchers worked with 17 men and women who reviewed 168 object locations within various backgrounds on a computer screen located in an MRI scanner. Scientists observed their brain activity during this time.
After viewing the objects, participants were asked to place them in the original location, but on a new background screen. They all placed the objects in an incorrect location.
Finally, participants were shown an object from the original study set in three backgrounds. They were asked to select the correct one. Their choices were the original location on which they saw the object, the location they placed the object in during the second part of the test, or in a new location. Participants all chose the location they remembered from the second part of the test.
Perfect memory is a myth
Researchers conclude that the idea of a perfect memory is a myth. Memory is designed to change continually to help people make good decisions in the moment. It is not a reliable or accurate witness of experiences and events. That may explain why people who observe the same event often have different recollections of what happened.
Read the report to learn more about how your memory edits the past.