RSS Feed

To what extent can we trust our memory?


June 12, 2016 by Nancy Yin


Last year, a girl sat next to me when I had lunch in Laoma. It should be a very normal thing. However, after that lunch, I almost meet that girl at least twice every weak in Guoquan Road. Then I felt I know that girl very well, though I even did not know her name.


I found out these kind of things are quite common through our life. The increasing in the frequency of appearances of one thing will enhance the memory. And it was a very dangerous process, which might create false memory. This is because of the formation of the memory, when people experience something only once, the short-term memory will form. However, at the most time this memory is easy to be forgotten. Only with the several times appearances of the same thing, the short-term memory then turns into the long-term memory.


There was an experiment that showed the false memory is not only can be easily created by the repeat of appearances, but also by some external factors. In this experiment, some people were invited as volunteers. They had been told the theme of the experiment is “ Food and Personality”. And stuffs asked them a lot of questions, which relate to the food, and then the information would be recorded in the computer. After a week, stuffs told two-thirds of volunteers that they used to get illness because of eating egg salads in their childhood. The rest of them as a control group were not been told the experience about the egg salad. By using questionnaire, the experimenter discovered half of the people that from the experimental group successfully created a false memory.


The false memory will also be created due to the similarities between two things. Thus, people might always get confusion about time, places, characters, events etc., resulting in false memories. According to those examples and experiments, is our memory always reliable? And to what extent can we trust our memory?


Memory has widely using in the real life. Polices always use the memory of the victims or eyewitness to find out the criminals. However the false memory will cause some misjudged case. Psychotherapists even use the false memory as a method of therapeutic approaches. But what if the psychotherapists do this for some bad aims? It will create some ethical and moral issues. And for those people who had the false memory, how can they tell their memory is real or false? Except using modern technologies, can they found out by themselves?


To sum up, our memories are not always reliable. They can be easily created or changed even by a small talking. And the false memories even will be formed naturally as the time goes by. Therefore, we should pay attention when we need our memory to help us to make decisions.


  1. Celia says:

    Memory also will be affected by emotion. When I was young, which is in elementary school, I have a memory that I was bullied by the other class mates. According to my class mates, actually is I was bullying them instead of bullying by them. So from this we can see that memory will be affected strongly by emotion. During inquiry, witness7s statement is an important evidence for the police, but how can we know this witness has an objective memory? Maybe he or she felt a strong emotion and this changed the memory. Then is this memory a reliable evidence? To what extent you can trust your memory? To what extent, is memory a reliable evidence?

  2. Nancy Jung says:

    I enjoy your post!
    I think memory is a constructive and selective process. It is important to remember that humans are always shaped by influences and different perspectives. And then a question is raised from my mind: our history is coming from our memory. When one’s personal memory changes, how will this change history? To have the objective memory, collective memory is important. One can never only consider a single person’s memory; shared memory gives a more complex description. Thus it is important to get more than one side of an event.
    When you talk about the false memory, I suddenly think about the hypnosis. Hypnosis is a form of psychotherapy that is designed to relax your mind, but it also can be used to recall forgotten memory. Then I remind about the role of forgetting. Maybe sometimes we just remember the good things and forget about the bad things. Hence it can help us from distressing past events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar