Of course you do.
Well, research has used that very example to demonstrate how memories work and how they can deceive us (i.e. how your memories can change!)
Researchers (1) asked people to recall their memories of the 9/11 events at regular intervals, making note every time of what was said (where they were, who they were with, what they were wearing, the facts about the events itself…).
They noticed that over time, details were changed without people even realizing it.
After a while, it turned out that many people thought they were somewhere that day when it fact they were somewhere else. Yet, they were convinced their memories were accurate.
Because every time you retrieve a memory, replay it in your mind or retell it to someone then store it back again, you have the potential to alter it.
It’s almost as though your mind recreates that memory rather than just putting it back as it was where it was.
The worst part of it is that you will believe in the alteration as though it did happen. The alteration will become your new reality within this memory.
When The Knowledge Of Memory Alteration Becomes Useful
When I learned about that, I found it quite scary. I always thought that I could rely on my memories.
Yet, this new knowledge did give me some new perspectives:
- I’m a bit more understanding now when my husband retells the story of how we first met and comes up with completely different details to the ones I remember.
Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t remember it right, after all…
- If we have the potential of altering our memories, could we use this to our advantage by turning bad memories into not so bad ones?
Yes, we can.
It seems that memory manipulation is actually easier than one might think.
One thing that seems to help a lot with this is our emotions and senses. If you make a memory (or recall and restore a memory) using your emotions and all your senses (what you see, hear, smell, taste), that memory will stick a lot more… even if it is false!
Another research (2) had students imagine different objects, even hear some of them now and then (a hammer, toilet flush, baby cry…). The students were also shown some objects. Then, they were asked to recall which they actually saw. Many got muddled up and were convinced they had seen a hammer which they had only imagined and heard…
It seems that repeated exposure to images and sounds (such as seeing photos, day dreaming, hearing somebody recalling events…) muddles up our memories to the point where we don’t remember what actually happened for real.
You might be aware of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming). NLP uses such techniques to change past experience to ones’ advantage and help cure people from fears.
Memories Have Other Surprises In Store
Have you ever experienced a time where your partner vividly remembers telling you something and you just cannot recall anything at all.
They might think that you’re just lying, taking the mickey or suffering from a mental disease.
In fact, the answer is much simpler.
It’s not that the memory was forgotten.
It’s that it was never formed in the first place.
If you were putting your keys away as your partner was talking to you, your mind will record what it considers to be the most important information…
… and it might well be the keys’ location…
So, next time you want to remember something, don’t do anything else at the same time.
Pay full attention to it.
Other Tips To Help You Remember Better
So, we’ve seen that emotions and senses make memories stronger. So does paying full attention to what you want to memorize.
Now, there’s something else you can do to help transform a short-term memory into a long-term one: space testing.
Once a memory is formed, it is then encoded and stored. If you don’t reinforce it, it will just fade and eventually disappear. In order to remember something forever (for instance if you’re learning a new language), you have to strengthen these memories to make them lasting.
How do you do that?
By testing yourself at regular intervals.
But you’ve got to do it in a specific way.
- The way you recall the memory is important. You’ve got to make it a test rather than just re-reading a list. In this way, the recall process becomes active and you have more chance of remembering what it is you want to remember.
- The frequency at which you recall the memory is also important. You’ve got more chance of consolidating the memory if you recall it just before you’re about to forget it:
- a few seconds after learning it
- a few minutes after
- a few hours later (so 3 times the first day)
- the day after
- the week after
- the month after
- a few months after
- a year after
Memories are a fascinating subject in the way they’re created, recalled, transformed without us being very much aware of what our brain is doing for us in the background.
But, armed with that knowledge, we too can consciously influence that process to our benefit – opening endless opportunities.
Have you ever experienced any ‘hiccups’ in your memories such as the ones described in this article? Maybe others?