We think our recollections are reliable,but research shows that all of us are susceptible to false memories. Kate Hilpern discovers what can happen when we rewrite the past.
“I have a strong memory of being a boy in a car driving along a country road in Suffolk,” recalls a man who I will call Adam. “Rounding a corner near home, we swerved, narrowly avoiding a milk float. The milk float ended up on its side, covering the road in milk. I can still picture the road, a large oak tree and the milk sloshing about, despite the fact that the boy in the car was my father. I have never lived in Suffolk.”
Oscar Wilde described memory as “the diary we all carry about”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Research shows that even when our recollections of the past are held with great confidence, clarity and emotion, they can be inexact and often wrong. In fact, the latest studies show that the higher the level of detail, the less likely it is that your memory is accurate.
Adam’s false memory is among hundreds of anonymous ones being collected by the False Memory Archive, as part of a Wellcome Trust-funded exhibition by artist AR Hopwood on the topic.
…. In a study published last week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that the details of childhood memories – colours, the weather or the time of an event – cannot be accurately recalled, so our brains fill in the gaps with fabricated details.
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