What affects the accuracy of memory?

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2012-09-22 17:49:43

Human memory is an amazing thing, but there are many ways memory

can fail. Here is a brief explanation of Daniel Schacter's "seven

sins of memory."

Three sins of forgetting:

  1. Encoding failure from absent-mindedness. If we paid attention

    to every single detail it would be really overwhelming, so

    oftentimes certain information never enters our long-term memories

    and thus we cannot recall it later.

  2. Storage decay over time, which is called transience. Oftentimes

    the memory we have successfully stored is just forgotten

    later on. This is usually caused by lack of rehearsal (e.g. using

    the Spanish vocabulary you learned three years ago) and a weakening

    of neural connections.

  3. Blocking or retrieval failure. When we are given a lot of

    similar information, we may store everything but it can be

    difficult to recall one particular thing out of a large collection.

    We learn a lot of names in our lives but cannot always remember

    them all. New information can interfere with recalling old

    information, and vice versa. Retrieval cues, such as seeing the

    face of the person, may help.

Three sins of distortion:

  1. Misattribution. If you've ever thought Sally disliked chocolate

    when it was really Hannah, you've misattributed your information.

    When we encode memories, different aspects are distributed to the

    part of the brain that deals with that type of info. In these

    cases, the source part of the memory hasn't been sent


  2. False memories due to our suggestibility. Sometimes we are

    given or imagine misinformation and incorporate it into our memory,

    so later on we remember it as true.

  3. Bias can also distort our recollections. If students are given

    cumbersome projects periodically throughout the year, they may

    remember the teacher as tough or unfair despite having a lot of fun

    in the class initially.

    One sin of intrusion:

  4. Persistence of unwanted memories. If we are reliving memories

    constantly, the theory would be that they stay accurate and fresh

    in the mind. However there is a likelihood for our imaginations to

    get away with us and exaggerate/add details - particularly with

    unwanted or fear-inducing memories.

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