Dr. Daniel Schacter
Without memories, who are we? So much is generated and cultivated through the use of the information that we collect, store, and then later retrieve. Our identities, bases for making decisions and judgments, and ways in which to bring ourselves joy (or pain) within a split second are just a few of the fruits thanks to the memories we gather. What's most interesting to consider is that according to Dr. Daniel Schacter, a Harvard psychology professor and researcher, memories are not just a replay, like playing back a tape recorder. Instead it's something that you construct based on your past experiences, current knowledge and beliefs. All of those things together constitute a memory. Further more, our interpretation, and thus subsequent recollection, of our memories aren't as accurate as we might have thought. In Dr. Schacter's book, The Seven Sins of Memory (2nd edition coming out September 2021), he explains the legitimate and ever so common memory failures that we experience.
Among these seven sins are absent-mindedness, transience, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. One that tends to ring a bell with most people is bias. Dr. Schacter explains with egocentric biases, we tend to remember the past in a way (not surprisingly) that makes us look good; thus, proving that our memory is not just a faithful recorder of what happened. It is often, instead, serving our interest of making us feel good. Moreover, with consistency bias, we often remember the past in a way that is consistent with our present knowledge and beliefs, allowing us to affirm what we think. How does evolution play a role here? This can't be normal. Or can it? These often occurrences certainly aren't flukes or mistakes. We all fall into these pitfalls and only upon reflection do most of us realize that we were victims of certain biases. Dr. Schacter believes that, even though these are unwelcome issues, it's exactly how memories have come to be designed.
"Memory is not just a replay, like playing back a tape recorder. Instead it's something that you construct based on your past experiences, current knowledge and beliefs.
All those things together constitute a memory."
On the more extreme side of memory failures, we see the occurrence, or rather acceptance, of false memories. Dr. Schacter explains a study that was conducted on undergraduate students that were told a false event occurred during their high school years. With the combination of participant imagination and social coercion, it was found that 70% of participants accepted this false memory induction. How does these methods play a role in false crime confessions? Our memories aren't 100% reliable and most of us have experienced situations where our recollections haven't been on target. How can you combat these memory failures and understand them on a deeper level? We discuss these questions and more.
Listen to my conversation with Dr. Schacter below.
(Recorded June 2021.)
Books by Dr. Schacter