Table of Contents
- What is Memory Distortion?
- Distortion of Memory Types
- Misinformation, Bias, and Source Amnesia Examples
- False Memory Syndrome and Other Effects of Memory Distortion
- Lesson Summary
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.
The following list includes four types of memory distortions that are common in the human brain.
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.
Choice supportive bias occurs when a person makes a decision, and they begin to attribute positive aspects to the thing they chose and negative aspects to the thing they rejected. People do this daily because they enjoy being affirmed in their decision-making skills. An example would be a person deciding to have a burger or a salad for lunch. If they choose the burger, they may say, "I needed the protein; I had a tough workout. The salad would not have filled me up." However, if they chose the salad, they may say, "That burger would have made me feel bloated; it is so much protein. I had a good morning workout, and I don't need to undo the calories I lost." Both aspects could be accurate, but the person will only speak highly of the item they chose.
Source amnesia occurs when people know specific information but do not know when, where, why, or how they learned it. It is simple memory distortion that we experience on a daily basis. For example, most people know how to use a fork to eat but do not know when they remembered how to do that and what learning to use a fork was like.
As mentioned earlier, eyewitnesses are not preferred as evidence for a crime. This is due to memory distortions. Oftentimes, eyewitnesses are overly confident in their ability to remember key details about a crime. However, the details they remember may not necessarily be true. Their confidence in their ability is misplaced, making them dangerous witnesses. False memory syndrome, caused by trauma, is when the brain changes the memories around a certain event to make it more palatable to the mind. This can also occur with eyewitnesses because witnessing a crime or an incident can be a traumatic experience.
Memory distortion is experienced when our brain creates false memories or changes the memories we already have. It does this through incorrect processing of schema or altering of schema. Memory schemas are important because they are the building blocks of memory that help us understand the world around us. They help us understand things that we are seeing based on past information. For example, when a sports team travels to a new field, they can process the new location because of the team's schema of their own field. There are different types of memory distortion. The misinformation effect occurs when a person experiences an event and then does not remember it correctly. When they retell their experience, they may not give correct details or remember when it occurred, or they might tell the experience as if it happened to them when it happened to someone else. Choice supportive bias occurs when people make a choice and think that their choice is superior to their other options. Lastly, source amnesia is when someone remembers knowledge or information but does not remember when, where, or how they learned that information.
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Distortion of memory is caused when schema (past experiences and understanding) is not processed correctly or is altered in the brain.
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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