Why Your Memories May Not Actually Be Your Memories

Memories are shared, utilised and are key components in our lives. They are present in discussions and relationships, and better ourselves as individuals. Have you ever considered the possibility that not all your memories are entirely accurate? As confident as we feel when describing our past, it is very likely that memory recall contains false information. Memory is much more complicated than it seems and perfect memory recall is nearly impossible for humans.

Contrary to popular belief, the accessing of memory is more of a puzzle-like process than immediate and completely accurate retrieval. The ultimate goal of memory is to generalise; details are more insignificant, so retrieval of specific information can distort the overall memory. Elizabeth F. Loftus conducted an experiment where she gave participants a list of events, all but one of which they had experienced. The fake event included information from that participant’s personal life (names, places, etc.). About a third of participants read the false event and not only “remembered” it occurring, but were able to add even more information. Another study, by Elizabeth Philips, shows that our memory focuses on the central event, not the specifics. The confidence we have in our recall of the central event leads us to adding false information to it. Those false details lead to overall memory distortion.

The actual distortion of memory can be caused by multiple components, with outside influences often at fault for inaccurate memory recall. Faces can be put in the wrong context, imaginations and dreams can be mistaken for reality, and sources of information are often mixed up. Memory is also very current.  It often fits how your life is going at the moment.

But does the way we distort our memories say anything about us as individuals? Our feelings often affect our recall and our perception. Certain ideas can influence us into only believing details that support it. Many couples, for example, speak of having “love at first sight”, but there is speculation that they are creating that as a false memory to support their relationship. Another component is our current emotional state. The mood with which we decide to recall memories emphasises, forgets and creates details for the event to better correlate with the mood. For example, if I’m upset and telling someone about my day, I will more than likely only remember negative events that occurred. Another influence on retrieval of memory is our culture. A culture centralised around the individual will have people recalling very personal aspects of a situation, whereas cultures centralised around appreciation of exterior influences will recall the surroundings of the situation to a greater extent.

In light of all this information, I felt I was living a lie by my own doing. It can be a little frightening, thinking that all these things in life you experience won’t even be remembered properly. Even with all this, it is still possible to live a fulfilling life. In my opinion, this leniency in our memory recall leads us to take more risks and gives us a drive for adventure. Take the openness of your memory as a chance to be open to new opinions and ideas.



“Constant Rewrites: Your Memory Isn’t All That Accurate.” Science 2.0. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://www.science20.com/news_articles/constant_rewrites_your_memory_isnt_all_accurate-129116>.

Hall, Karyn. “A Few of the Many Ways We Distort Reality.” Psychology Today. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201208/few-the-many-ways-we-distort-reality>.

Konnikova, Maria. “Why We Remember So Many Things Wrong – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/idea-happened-memory-recollection>.

Ranpura, Ashish. “How We Remember, and Why We Forget – Brain Connection.” Brain Connection. 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/2013/03/12/how-we-remember-and-why-we-forget/>.

Tugend, Alina. “The New York Times.” Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-remember-negative-events-more-than-positive-ones.html?referer=&_r=1>.


By Lindsay Olivieri

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s