Memory Distortion: Causes and Effects

Mamie Albritton, Stephanie Thomas
  • Author
    Mamie Albritton

    Mamie is current a Graduate Student at the University of Southern Mississippi. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Child and Family Sciences with emphasis in Family Relations. Upon graduation she earned her Certified Family Life Educator Credential. She has been a leader in her courses and assisted with tutoring for several years.

  • Instructor
    Stephanie Thomas
Learn about the types of memory distortion. Discover factors that cause the distortion of memory, and identify examples and effects of memory distortion. Updated: 08/01/2022

Table of Contents


What is Memory Distortion?

Sometimes, we may think we had a conversation we never actually had. Or our brain will remember a specific day and interaction differently than another person. Situations like this occur when we experience memory distortions. Memory distortions happen when our brain creates false memories. These false memories are then stored in the brain, and their validity is not considered.

Each person's brain holds a set of schemas within their memory. A memory schema is a group of experiences of past associations. These experiences and associations are recalled to inform decisions and thoughts and are called to become active through the use of memory. A memory schema is using the knowledge that one already has. Memory distortion is caused by cognitive processes that interfere with the encoding of the memory schema. So a past experience may be remembered differently from the way it occurred because the schema has not been programmed correctly.

Many things can cause incorrect programming of schema. When one sleeps, one goes into REM sleep. The brain takes time in REM sleep to process all of the day's memories. If the brain does not get a good amount of REM, then the schema will not be processed correctly. Now perhaps the schema was programmed correctly in REM sleep, but the brain has issues retrieving the schema. This can cause issues with memory distortion. Damage to the brain can also cause memory distortions because it is no longer functioning properly.

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  • 0:04 Schema
  • 1:20 Source Amnesia
  • 1:55 Misinformation Effect
  • 2:46 Choice-Supportive Bias
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Distortion of Memory Types

The following list includes four types of memory distortions that are common in the human brain.

  • Source amnesia: This type of amnesia is associated with an inability to remember where knowledge was learned.
  • Misinformation effect : This occurs when a person remembers an event (an episodic memory recall), and now they do not remember the event correctly.
  • Choice supportive bias: Just as it sounds, this memory distortion means that one views something as more favorable due to bias, whether or not it is more favorable.
  • Cognitive dissonance: This type of memory distortion occurs when a person holds conflicting beliefs. There is often discomfort when a person holds two beliefs that are contradictory to one another.

Misinformation, Bias, and Source Amnesia Examples

The misinformation memory distortion occurs when one remembers an event but does not necessarily remember it correctly. Information is received after the event occurs that then changes the event in the brain, making it a memory distortion. Research on this distortion emphasizes how easily our memory can be manipulated by even the smallest amount of new information. The misinformation effect is the reason why eyewitness testimonies are not preferred to other forms of evidence in a criminal case. An example of this memory distortion is individuals that have seen a car accident. A group of individuals can watch a car accident occur. However, after speaking to other people about the accident, their reports of what they saw may change. They may blend their memories with a different event that occurred in the past, or the use of specific wording when someone speaks to them about the event could change what they thought they saw.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What causes distortion of memory?

Distortion of memory is caused when schema (past experiences and understanding) is not processed correctly or is altered in the brain.

What are the different types of memory distortion?

The different types of memory distortion are the misinformation effect which means that sometimes we don't remember things correctly, choice supportive bias, which means people speak highly of their choices, and source amnesia, which means one doesn't remember where they learned something.

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