How the Mind Forgets and Remembers: The Seven Sins of Memory

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Spara som favorit. Skickas inom vardagar. In this intriguing study, Harvard psychologist Daniel L. Schacter explores the memory miscues that occur in everyday life, placing them into seven categories: absent-mindedness, transience, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. Illustrating these concepts with vivid examplescase studies, literary excerpts, experimental evidence, and accounts of highly visible news events such as the O.

Simpson verdict, Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony, and the search for the Oklahoma City bomberhe also delves into striking new scientific research, giving us a glimpse of the fascinating neurology of memory and offering ';insight into common malfunctions of the mind' USA Today. Ganzfried revealed that Wilkomirski is actually Bruno Dossekker, born in to a young woman named Yvone Berthe Grosjean, who later gave him up for adoption to an orphanage.

Young Bruno spent all of the war years with his foster parents, the Dossekkers, in the safe confines of his native Switzerland. Whatever the basis for his traumatic "memories" of Nazi horrors, they did not come from childhood experiences in a concentration camp. Is Dossekkerl Wilkomirksi simply a liar? Probably not: he still strongly believes that his recollections are real. We're all capable of distorting our pasts. Think back to your first year in high school and try to answer the following questions: Did your parents encourage you to be active in sports?


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Was religion helpful to you? Did you receive physical punishment as discipline? The Northwestern University psychiatrist Daniel Offer and his collaborators put these and related questions to sixty-seven men in their late forties. Their answers are especially interesting because Offer had asked the same men the same questions during freshman year in high school, thirty-four years earlier. The men's memories of their adolescent lives bore little relationship to what they had reported as high school freshmen.


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Fewer than 40 percent of the men recalled parental encouragement to be active in sports; some 60 percent had reported such encouragement as adolescents. Barely one-quarter recalled that religion was helpful, but nearly 70 percent had said that it was when they were adolescents. And though only one-third of the adults recalled receiving physical punishment decades earlier, as adolescents nearly 90 percent had answered the question affirmatively. Memory's errors are as fascinating as they are important.

What sort of system permits the kinds of distortions described in Kawabata's fiction and the Wilkomirski case, or the inaccuracies documented in Offer's study? Why do we sometimes fail to recall the names of people whose faces are perfectly familiar to us? What accounts for episodes of misplaced keys, wallets, or similar lapses?

Why do some experiences seem to disappear from our minds without a trace? Why do we repeatedly remember painful experiences we'd rather forget? And what can we do to avoid, prevent, or minimize these troublesome features of our memory systems?

Seven Sins of Memory

Psychologists and neuroscientists have written numerous articles on 4 Introduction specific aspects of forgetting or memory distortions, but no unified framework has conceptualized the various ways in which memory sometimes leads us astray. In this book, I provide such a framework. I try to develop a fresh approach to understanding the causes and consequences of memory's imperfections that, for the first time, suggests a way to think about the wide range of problems that memory can create.

As a memory researcher for more than twenty years, I've long been intrigued by memory failures.

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But it was not until a sunny morning in May , in the midst of my daily walk, that I considered a simple question: What are the different ways that memory can get us into trouble? I suddenly recognized that it is necessary to address that question in order to develop a broad understanding of memory errors. Yet I also realized that the question had not yet been asked. For the next few months, I brought together everything I knew about memory's imperfections and attempted to impose some order on a vast array of lapses, mistakes, and distortions.

I generated a variety of unsatisfactory schemes for conceptualizing these diverse observations, but eventually hit on a way of thinking that helped to make everything fall into place. I propose that memory's malfunctions can be divided into seven fundamental transgressions or "sins," which I call transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence.

The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

Just like the ancient seven deadly sins, the memory sins occur frequently in everyday life and can have serious consequences for all of us. Transience, absent-mindedness, and blocking are sins of omission: we fail to bring to mind a desired fact, event, or idea. Transience refers to a weakening or loss of memory over time. It's probably not difficult for you to remember now what you have been doing for the past several hours.

But if I ask you about the same activities six weeks, six months, or six years from now, chances are you'll remember less and less. Transience is a basic feature of memory, and the culprit in many memory problems. Absent-mindedness involves a breakdown at the interface between attention and memory. Absent-minded memory errors - misplacing keys or eyeglasses, or forgetting a lunch appointment - typically occur because we are preoccupied with distracting issues or concerns, and don't focus attention on what we need to remember.

The desired information isn't lost over time; it is either never registered in memory to begin with, or not sought after at the moment it is needed, because attention is focused elsewhere. Introduction 5 The third sin, blocking, entails a thwarted search for information that we may be desperately trying to retrieve. We've all failed to produce a name to accompany a familiar face. This frustrating experience happens even though we are attending carefully to the task at hand, and even though the desired name has not faded from our minds - as we become acutely aware when we unexpectedly retrieve the blocked name hours or days later.

In contrast to these three sins of omission, the next four sins of misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence are all sins of commission: some form of memory is present, but it is either incorrect or unwanted. The sin of misattribution involves assigning a memory to the wrong source: mistaking fantasy for reality, or incorrectly remembering that a friend told you a bit of trivia that you actually read about in a newspaper.

Misattribution is far more common than most people realize, and has potentially profound implications in legal settings. The related sin of suggestibility refers to memories that are implanted as a result of leading questions, comments, or suggestions when a person is trying to call up a past experience. Like misattribution, suggestibility is especially relevant to and sometimes can wreak havoc within - the legal system.

The sin of bias reflects the powerful influences of our current knowledge and beliefs on how we remember our pasts. We often edit or entirely rewrite our previous experiences - unknowingly and unconsciously - in light of what we now know or believe. The result can be a skewed rendering of a specific incident, or even of an extended period in our lives, which says more about how we feel nQwthan about what happened then. The seventh sin - persistence - entails repeated recall of disturbing information or events that we would prefer to banish from our minds altogether: remembering what we cannot forget, even though we wish that we could.

Everyone is familiar with persistence to some degree: recall the last time that you suddenly awoke at A. In more extreme cases of serious depression or traumatic experience, persistence can be disabling and even life-threatening. In this book I consider new discoveries, some based on recent breakthroughs in neuroscience which allow us to see the brain in action as it learns and remembers and which are beginning to illuminate the basis of the seven sins.

These studies allow us to see in a new light what's going on inside our heads during the frustrating incidents of memory failure or error which can have a significant impact on our everyday lives. I also discuss 6 Introduction how our emerging knowledge of the seven sins can help to counter them. But to understand the seven sins more deeply, we also need to ask why our memory systems have come to exhibit these bothersome and sometimes dangerous properties: Do the seven sins represent mistakes made by Mother Nature during the course of evolution?

The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers - Daniel L. Schacter - Google книги

Is memory flawed in a way that has placed our species at unnecessary risk? I don't think so. To the contrary, I contend that each of the seven sins is a by-product of otherwise desirable and adaptive features of the human mind. Consider by analogy the ancient seven deadly sins. Pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, and sloth have great potential to get us into trouble. Yet each of the deadly sins can be seen as an exaggeration of traits that are useful and sometimes necessary for survivaL Gluttony may make us sick, but our health depends on consuming sufficient amounts of food.

Lust can cost a straying husband his wife's affections, but a sex drive is crucial for perpetuating genes.