How Accurate Are Our Memories?
Think back to the first memory you have of your childhood, a flash of a tree flashing by as you fly by on a bicycle, or that time in the backyard when you wanted to dig a hole to China. Think back to the day the World Trade Center towers fell, what were you doing? Who were you with? What did you see?
For me I remember one vivid thing about that day, a flashbulb memory it is called, I see my dad sitting on his bed looking up at the T.V. with his mouth wide open, not looking at me when I said I couldn't find my left sock. On the T.V. I see smoke and rubble, a plane nose-diving towards a tower, played over and over again as my mom tried to move me out of the room. Then it's gone. That's all I remember. Most people I know have the same recollection as I do, some sort of view of the television, planes crashing into the towers the morning of September 11th, 2001. But, what is noteworthy is the fact that, the actual footage of the plane colliding with the towers was not released, or seen by anyone until September 12, 2001.
Karim Nader, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, says that although these memories seem bright and vivid, our mind is playing a trick on us. Memories such as these flashbulb memories play tricks on us, twisting and changing the real memory until what's left is a distorted skeleton of the actual event. Nader too, recalls seeing footage of the planes colliding on September 11, as well as 569 college students (from a 2003 study) 73 percent of which shared this misperception as well.
Memories that are replayed over an over again, like September 11th, are prone to morph, Nader believes; because each retelling or replay of it yields a slight change in the original memory.
The basic idea of a memory follows these guidelines:
"According to this view, the brain’s memory system works something like a pen and notebook. For a brief time before the ink dries, it’s possible to smudge what’s written. But after the memory is consolidated, it changes very little. Sure, memories may fade over the years like an old letter (or even go up in flames if Alzheimer’s disease strikes), but under ordinary circumstances the content of the memory stays the same, no matter how many times it’s taken out and read. Nader would challenge this idea."
( Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/How-Our-Brains-Make-Memorie... )
Nader however believes that with each retelling, and each opening and reading of that letter, the memory becomes altered and changed slightly, until all thats left is the basic outline and distorted story you began with.