(This is a guest post by Christopher Hutton.)
We humans have amazing memories.
In fact, our memory is one of the features that heavily distinguishes us from other species. Our ability to distinguish between new and well-known concepts is equaled by no other.
But I have a quick test for you. I’d like you to scan over the following list of words, then try your best to remember them:
(Scroll down once you’ve read over them)
Alright, now that you’ve read that list, I have a question:
Was the word sleep in there? (no peeking!)
If psychologist Daniel Simons is correct, 40% of you will say yes. But if you go and look back, the word is not there.
The Illusion Of Memory
This is an example of what Simons and his colleague Christopher Chabris call the “Illusion of Memory” in their book The Invisible Gorilla.
They found that, when trying to remember things, people often accidentally “modify” their memories in order to match either the desires or thought categories of the day.
In the case above, you might have modified your memory in order to include the word “sleep”, since it fit into the category I was asking you about.
This seems like a really simple flub, like something that shouldn’t matter in the long-run. However, this simple modification of memory could affect everything from historical accounts to legal cases involving eyewitnesses.
How do we avoid this?
The easy answer is having ways to “Check the facts” and always double-check your memory with others.
The hard answer is making sure to understand the errors and potential problems that could come about because of this.
Do you agree? Is our memory less trustworthy than we think? Or are we exaggerating the problems?
Let us know below!
*Photo Credit: Lali Masriera (Creative Commons)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher is a freelance writer and college student from Minnesota. Every week, he writes at Liter8 about modern-day topics of interest, both philosophical, scientific, and relevant. He also posts on twitter as @liter8media.