I asked my son the other day, “What was school like?” Whereon he replied, “like usual, it normally is”.
We are not good at remembering things. We’d rather create patterns out of past events that help us create a memorable story. Patterns are easier to remember and therefore take priority over truth in our minds. Truth is too complex and full of details to remember. The patterns we create are more familiar to us, fit well with our existing picture of reality and therefore more preferable. They give our minds a rest. We create memorable stories by constructing stereotypes, leaving out certain details and include a number of fabricated details. Anything to make the story more memorable and relatable. As long as it makes sense to us and it serves its purpose, we’ll buy it. (Stereotypical bias, Prejudice, Leveling and Sharpeining, Misinformation effect)
Our memories are affected by our current emotions, unrelated events, questions and we easily mix fact and fiction (Suggestibility, Misattribution of memory). Our memories and understanding of past events change as time goes by, as our circumstances change and experience increases. New light from new experiences can completely alter our understanding of a past event and we adjust our memory of it to fit into existing patterns. Sometimes we even remember things without even realizing it’s a memory and mistake it for inspiration (Cryptomnasia)
Some things we remember more vividly than others. For instance, we tend to remember what happens first or last during an event (Serial position effect, Recency effect, Primacy effect), and the peak experience of an event. The concept of time, i.e. the duration of an event doesn’t seem to be as natural to remember as impressions. There is a classic example where two groups of test persons hold their hands in painfully cold water. One group is asked to take their hand out of the ice cold water after a set amount of time. The other group has their hand in the water longer but, during the final minutes, the water is warmed up slightly so it isn’t as painful. Both have equal exposure to the painfully cold water but the other group has some added minutes in less painful water (without knowing that their duration was longer or that the temperature was increased slightly). That second group viewed the whole experience as less unpleasant even though it took longer and in total they were exposed to more pain than the first group. So, the duration of the event is not as meaningful to us as the final impression from the event. So, not only do first impressions last. Last impressions last as well. (the Peak-end rule)
We also have a tendency to remember what we say. This could be linked to our tendency to value something we put effort into. Evidence suggests that there is effort in saying something because anything said by others approximately 9 seconds before or right after our own statement is very hard for us to recall. Like when we are introducing ourselves to one another, have you ever been so focused on saying your own name that you completely forgot the name of who you were presented to? (Next-in-line effect). Since our input demands effort, it is valued higher than others’ input so, our minds will prioritize that memory.
Being able to forget irrelevant information is a defense mechanism which is crucial to our memory (Memory inhibition). Forgetting the irrelevant is just as important as remembering the relevant. With time, certain memories fade quicker than others. For instance, in the moment, negative experiences causing negative emotions have a stronger impact on our emotional state than positive ones but, with time, the memory of negative emotions tend to fade quicker than positive ones, often leaving us with nostalgic memories (Duration neglect, Peak-end rule, Fading affect bias, Rosy retrospection, Negativity bias).
If we actively try to remember things, like studying for an exam, we will need a strategy if we want to hold more than 7+/-2 things in our minds. We need a way to store the information in our long term memory in a retrievable way. We remember things better if we regularly test our memory e.g. with cue cards (testing effect) and if we partition our study time into intervals that are spread out over a longer time period, instead of cramming everything into our heads in one sitting (Spacing effect). Also, answering questions about the topic while studying will yield better results than simple repetition since anything that demands an effort is valued higher and therefore prioritized in our minds. (levels of processing effect)
So, what can you expect to remember from a post like this? Probably nothing more than that you read a post about memory and that we suck at it…
- Posted by Anders Stenkrona
- On January 11, 2017
- 0 Comments