Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ah, yes, I remember it well

  • Him: We met at nine
  • Her: We met at eight
  • Him: I was on time
  • Her: No, you were late
  • Him: Ah, yes, I remember it well
(If you’ve never seen the movie, you can watch the clip here).

Has this ever happened to you?

You know you were with the Johnsons when you got food poisoning.

Your spouse knows you were with the Macintyres, and in fact you’ve never even had Chinese food with the Johnsons.

Fear not. According to Dr. Steve Dewhurst from Lancaster University, memories, it turns out, are not faithfully recorded in our minds as we like to think, but are “updated each time we bring them to mind to fit our current knowledge and beliefs.” Yep, that's right. Memory is mutable.

The book The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us — the title comes from the famous, and infamous, Gorilla Experiment (I won't tell you any more, you can try it for yourself here... it only takes a minute) — explores these “everyday illusions of perception and thought, including the beliefs that:

  • we pay attention more than we do,
  • our memories are more detailed than they are,
  • confident people are competent people,
  • we know more than we actually do,
  • and our brains have reserves of power that are easy to unlock.”
One of the authors puts it this way:
“we assume that when we recall a personal experience vividly; that the richness of our memory means it must be accurate. The idea that we can remember our experiences as if our brain were a camcorder is fundamentally wrong.”

So the next time you remember a different when, what, where or who than your husband, wife, father, sister, or son — try remembering this: you could both be wrong!

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