Although we like to think that our memory operates like recording equipment, that is not actually the case. The molecular mechanisms underlying the induction and maintenance of memory are very dynamic and comprise distinct phases covering a time window from seconds to even a lifetime. In fact research has revealed that our memories are constructed. People can construct their memories when they encode them and/or when they recall them. To illustrate consider a classic study conducted by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer (1974) in which people were instructed to watch a film of a traffic accident and then asked about what they saw. The researchers found that, those people who were asked, “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?” gave higher estimates than those who were asked, “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” Furthermore, when asked a week later whether they have seen broken glass in the film, those who had been asked the question with smashed were twice more likely to report that they have seen broken glass than those who had been asked the question with hit. There was no broken glass depicted in the film. Thus, the wording of the questions distorted viewers’ memories of the event. Importantly, the wording of the question led people to construct different memories of the event – those who were asked the question with smashed recalled a more serious car accident than they had actually seen. The findings of this experiment were replicated around the world and researchers consistently demonstrated that when people were provided with misleading information they tended to misremember, a phenomenon known as the misinformation effect.
Interestingly, research has revealed that asking individuals to repeatedly imagine actions that they have never performed or events that they have never experienced could result in false memories. For instance, Goff and Roediger (1998) asked participants to imagine that they performed an act (e.g., break a toothpick) and then later asked them whether they had done such a thing. Findings revealed that those participants who repeatedly imagined performing such an act were more likely to think that they had actually performed that act during the first session of the experiment. Similarly, Garry and her colleagues (1996) asked college students to report how certain they were that they experienced a number of events as children (e.g., broke a window with their hand) and then two weeks later asked them to imagine four of those events. The researchers found that one-fourth of the students asked to imagine the four events reported that they had actually experienced such events as children. That is, when asked to imagine the events they were more confident that they experienced the events.
Read more about this topic: Memory
Famous quotes containing the words construction and/or memory:
“The construction of life is at present in the power of facts far more than convictions.”
—Walter Benjamin (18921940)
“The secret of success in society, is a certain heartiness and sympathy. A man who is not happy in the company, cannot find any word in his memory that will fit the occasion. All his information is a little impertinent. A man who is happy there, finds in every turn of the conversation equally lucky occasions for the introduction of that which he has to say.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)