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Day Four: Memory is not accurate. Nope, not even yours. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

P8050102Our memories can seem so vivid and realistic, it’s hard to believe they’re not literally true! But memory doesn’t work like a video camera.

For one thing, due to our limited powers of attention (see Day One) we never get the whole story to begin with. Then, every time we recall an event our minds edit and interpret and embellish, like a fish story.

And we do an especially inaccurate job on emotionally loaded events; we freight those memories with so much emotional baggage that they become personal fairy tales more than actual recollections.

This is bad news for criminal prosecutors who rely on witness testimony and for psychoanalysts delving into their patients’ childhood traumas, but it’s good news for those of us who have discovered that we can pick and choose the memories we want to cherish or discard, edit our memories for the better, and plan events so as to create wonderful memories we can treasure.

When Alan Alda was writing his memoirs, he related an important childhood event that, upon fact-checking, turned out to have never occurred; he became fascinated by the topic of false and reconstructed memory and helped create a whole PBS series about it.

Here’s one excerpt about Memory and Emotion (which happens to link back nicely to Day Two).

Watching this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman taught me to give up dwelling on painful past events (who knows by now if they even happened the way I recall?), and gave me some very clever tips on how to plan my life so as to maximize the good memories I will have in the future!

Here are two more good TED talks and two good articles:

The Fiction of Memory

The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony

How Recalling Memories Alters Them

Ten Facts About Memory


Day Four: Memory is not accurate. Nope, not even yours. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2015). Day Four: Memory is not accurate. Nope, not even yours. (Twelve Days of Wisdom). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jan 2015
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