Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

2
Mythical Memories:
Reconstructing the
Past in the Present

“The most faithful autobiography is less likely to mirror what a man was than what he has become. ”

—Fawn M. Brodie (1915–1981), American biographer


BACKGROUND

To prepare yourself for this chapter, try the following exercise. Sift through your memory until you locate an episode from your distant past. Next, attempt to recall as clearly as you can the events making up that episode, paying special attention to visual details. Spend a few moments clarifying your memories before proceeding to the next paragraph.

Ready? Now, replay the entire autobiographical episode once again. Looking at it with your inner eye, what precisely do you see? Though the imagery may be faint, and the scenes disjointed, an odd fact may be apparent. Your recollections may not completely or even remotely resemble the visual images that a camera on your head would have recorded. Rather, in accordance with cinematic convention, the remembered events may be depicted from a third—person perspective. You may picture yourself as part of the scene (Nigro & Neisser, 1983).

The existence of such impossible memories proves a surprising but important point: not only are memories capable of being retrieved, they are also capable of being reconstructed. In today's hi—tech culture, people could be forgiven for thinking that human memories, once properly stored, can be retrieved from the mind as faithfully as computer files are downloaded from a disk. However, the analogy is mistaken. The memories people retrieve are often biased by the state of mind they are in. A better

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