Let’s be honest here: Memory, and the process of losing it, is an intriguing topic. Most of us are concerned with keeping an intact memory store for as long as we possibly can. But, is it possible?
Memory failure happens to all of us throughout our lives. We don’t have to be ninety-five and in poor health to forget where we put that damn remote…Often times however, we don’t even think about our memory until it fails us. Once it does fail us though, that is all we can think about for the time being.
How many times have you forgotten where you put something and thought to yourself, “This is it. My memory is slipping. I’m going to have dementia by the time I’m thirty.”? I won’t lie, I’ve done it on numerous occasions. I know that is just me being a little bit dramatic, but sometimes I really do wonder. As we age, that wonder turns to worry and increases with time.
Even though we know that our memory struggles sometimes, there have been people who claim that they can remember absolutely everything. They can remember what they had to eat three years ago to this day, or what they wore on December 9th, 2001, apparently. I found one example of a man named Frank Healy. At fifty years old he was sat down and questioned on his seemingly extraordinary memory by a group of researchers. He is said to have a type of memory known as “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory”. This means that he has an uncanny ability to remember dates and events. Although Frank’s incredible memory sounds like it could be so helpful in recounting important details from the past, it is not quite as accurate as it seems.
Memory is fallible. We all forget, and even when we think we can remember something with insurmountable detail, we could be making it up in our mind. Even those like Frank are just as susceptible to false memories as anyone else. Memories can become contaminated by things that did not truly occur. An example of this is the terrorist attacks on 9/11. People our age generally remember being fairly young, possibly in kindergarten at the time. If asked how they remember hearing about the attacks, a common response is on the television. They recall watching it in the classroom as it happened. Now this is true for some folks, but clearly not for everyone.
We tend to “remember” it that way because that is how it has been discussed over time. Adults who were older may have had the experience of turning on the news at work and watching it. After hearing this information for so long, we tend to make that our own memory as well, even if that’s not the way that it really went. If exposed to misinformation following an event, people are likely to develop the false memory that was planted. You may think that something such as this is very trivial and of little significance. Who cares if we forget how we learned about the attacks? In this case it is not a huge deal, but in others it presents a large problem.
There was a period of time where therapists were highly trained in the theory of recovering “repressed memories”. These “memories” were often extremely traumatic and harmful to patients trying to “recover” them. Numerous studies have proved that instead of recovering actual memories, therapists had instilled in the person’s mind some false ones instead. This happened as a result of their word usage and incessant probing. A famous case regarding a young women who “remembered” being raped by her father proved the amount of harm that could be done with false memories. Although the therapists truly believed that they were helping their patients recover honest memories, they were instead causing damaging effects.
No matter what happens, some memories can never be replaced…
I found that above quote and it really made me think. We imagine some events in our lives as irreplaceable. We see them as moments that can’t be topped or forgotten about. We’ve all done it. But, after reading more literature about false memories and how unreliable our memory can be, it makes me reconsider. While not all, or even most, memories are false there are some that can be. Falsely remembering things won’t usually do much harm, but remember (ironic) this concept when in an argument with someone over something that happened. Try to think about the possibility that you could both be “remembering” the details in a slightly different manner.
While researching memory, its different types, and how it fails, I came across some differences between Americans and East Asians. It turns out that where we are from may have an impact on what we are able to remember better. Our culture affects memory by influencing what we view as important. Allegedly, Americans can recall objects better than East Asians. East Asians are more likely to remember people, on the other hand. I think this might have something to do with the fact that Asian countries are generally more collectivistic in nature than individualistic. It is also possible that these results may shape how children are taught in schools in the future.
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