In the last few months, I’ve made several mentions (at least once in a post, several times in the comments) about how faulty our memories can be. I think this is an important marriage issue because some couples get into many arguments that come down to different memories about the same event. If we think our memories are very good, then we are sure we are right and our spouse is wrong. Problem is our spouse makes the same assumption about their memory, which means we must be wrong. Arguments, bad feelings, and wasted time are the fall-out of our overestimating the accuracy of our memories.
First, I want to give you some facts about memory. Tomorrow I will suggest what this means, and how we should account for it in our marriages. I have given reference links at the end for those who want to read more. Some of this is based on rather new studies, and the old-timers in the field contest some of it.
- Remembering something at all, as well as how well we remember it, is largely depended on how important the event was to us when it happened. It is not unusual to have no memory of something from a few years back – it was not important at the time.
- It’s been proven that memories are imperfect – we don’t pick-up on all the details when we observe or are part of something, and if we don’t rehearse the memory soon enough we lose some of what we grasped initially.
- A third party can influence what we remember by how they word questions about the event, or by sharing what they recall. A third party can even cause us to “remember” details that are not real.
- What we recall is influenced by our biases.
- Things that happen while drunk or on drugs are more accurately remembered when again drunk or on the same drugs. Feelings (any strong emotion) have the same impact. I suspect sexual arousal works the same way. All this means what and how we remember is depended on how our state when remembering matches our state when the event occurred.
- When we retell things, we can alter our memory of the original event. If we tell just a part of the story (the part that is relevant or of interest to the person we are talking to), we make that part stronger in our memories, while the other parts may become less well-remembered.
- We tend to rewrite memories to match changes that happened later. You might recall something that happened in a car, but you remember a car that you did not have until after the event you are recalling. How you feel about the people or events in the memory also tends to shift to mirror your current feelings, rather than the original feelings. Things like changes in political ideology change this way, so that we remember ourselves being more like we are now than we really were.
- We tend to skew memories to make them fair or just.
- Our minds try to protect us, resulting in us modifying a memory to justify things we did.
- We are good at getting the core truth or “the gist” of something right, but we don’t remember details well. So, we will accurately remember that a discussion resulted in a specific outcome, but we are unlikely to correctly remember who made the various comments that lead to that outcome.
- We fill in gaps in what we see or hear. This gap filling helps us to make sense of things around us, but we remember the filled in parts as if they actually happened, rather than as attempt to fill in missing information.
- We also fill gaps resulting from forgetting details – and these then are saved as if they are actual memories.
- It is human nature to “spin” things so we look as good as possible. However, we tend to incorporate the spin into the memory so that it becomes fact in our minds. If we spin the spin, and then spin that, we can end up with a “memory” that is far from accurate.
Can We Trust Our Memories?
The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony The Human Memory
Why we can’t trust even our most powerful memories
It’s magical. It’s malleable. It’s… memory
47 Mind-Blowing Psychology-Proven Facts You Should Know About Yourself #6 — You Reconstruct Your Memories