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Memory Accuracy Essay

1193 words - 5 pages

Many people would swear that they are able to remember an event that happened to them with complete accuracy. However, this may not always be the case. Over time, it is not uncommon for people’s memories to fade and deteriorate, but what many don’t realize is that it’s possible for memories to actually transform themselves or be created entirely. With the possibility of memories being changed or fabricated by the human mind, can memory really be trusted?
Most of us hold the view that “memory is much like a tape recorder or video recorder, holding a perfectly accurate record of what has been experienced. Nothing could be further from the truth” (Thompson and Madigan 6). Memory is amazing; ...view middle of the document...

In other words, memory tends to “fill in the gaps based on other experiences and what makes sense” (Kowalski 34). For example, an experiment was performed by a professor to test his students’ memories; the professor sent a “group of students into his office and asked them to look around very carefully.” After the students left, they were instructed to make a list of every item they could vividly remember seeing in the office. Unsurprisingly, each of the students wrote down that they had seen books inside the office. However, the professor had deliberately removed any books from the room. “The brain of every student who took part in the experiment matched what was seen against what it ‘knew’ ought to be there… Their brains literally inserted the missing books into their memories so that the scene would be correct and complete” (Minirth 72). Another investigation performed by memory researcher Daniel Schacter tested volunteers’ abilities to recall words read to them. The list consisted of words relating to candies and desserts. Participants then were asked to identify which words were featured on the original list. As a result, Schacter found that about half of the participants recalled hearing the word “sweet” on the list, even though it had not been. The subjects had not actually heard the word “sweet” on the list. However, they recalled “the gist of the list…and not the actual list: the word “sweet” was not on the list, but most of the words on the list were related thematically to the concept of sweetness” (Mlodinow 65). In both experiments, their brains added in its own details based on assumptions and knowledge from past experiences.
While details can be eliminated or added to our memories, they may also change completely. However, the main idea of the memories usually remain the same.
In addition to the possibilities of remembering an event differently than the way it actually occurred, memories can also be created entirely. This phenomenon is known as false memory syndrome (Laney and Loftus 137). “False memories are not lies. People believe they are telling the truth” (Kowalski 34). According to Craig Stark at the University of California, “The formation of a false memory happens in the same way as the formation of a true memory…The same structures are being used” (Kowalski 34). This is why it’s so difficult for many to tell the difference between the two (Perry 10). False memories can be adopted from another individual’s experience if the event is described clearly and vividly enough to a person. This...

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