Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Illusory memories can have salutary effects

Date:
October 6, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
“False memories tend to get a bad rap,” says developmental psychologist Mark L. Howe in a new article. Indeed, remembering events incorrectly or remembering events that didn’t happen can have grave consequences, such as the criminal conviction of an innocent person. “But false memories are a natural outcropping of memory in general. They must have some positive effect, too.”

"False memories tend to get a bad rap," says developmental psychologist Mark L. Howe, of Lancaster University in England. Indeed, remembering events incorrectly or remembering events that didn't happen can have grave consequences, such as the criminal conviction of an innocent person. "But false memories are a natural outcropping of memory in general. They must have some positive effect, too."

Related Articles


That argument -- that memory illusions were evolutionarily adaptive and remain useful for psychological well being and problem-solving -- is the subject of an intriguing paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

Obviously, the evolution of accurate memory -- for the location of food, the appearance of a predator, or the smell of a potential mate -- was critical to human survival. Howe cites findings in evolutionary psychology that the more relevant a memory is to survival, the more likely it is to be evinced.

But memory is a flexible process of taking in new information and blending it with what is already there, selecting or forgetting portions of experience; it inevitably leads to errors small or large. Not only do we regularly generate false memories, says Howe, but, perhaps because we create them ourselves, those illusions are more tenacious than facts.

In some instance, such illusions may have enhanced our ancestors' survival. "The animal that goes to a favorite food-foraging location and sees signs that a predator was there -- but not the predator itself -- may be on guard the next time. But the creature that falsely remembers the predator was actually there might be even more cautious" -- extra protection against getting eaten if the bad guy shows up.

Memory illusions, like illusions generally, can still be salutary. An inflated self-concept may result in greater confidence, which fuels success. Similarly, remembering your childhood as happier than it was may help you have more satisfying intimate relationships in adulthood. The "placebo effect" -- believing the sugar pill is real medicine -- can cure the ailment without side effects. False memories sometimes have a related outcome: Howe cites a study in which children who came to remember a lumbar puncture as less painful than it was were able to tolerate the procedure with more ease the next time. False memories can also help in problem solving. Howe and colleagues conducted experiments in which they gave children a list of words -- nap, doze, dream, pillow, bed. Those who falsely remembered that sleep was also on the list did better on a complex associative task involving that word than those who did not generate the illusion.

Memory, Howe suggests, does not work like a video recorder. "Memory is designed to extract meaning from experience: At the foraging place, something bad was going on. You don't need the exact information to get the meaning."

The point of the paper is not to exaggerate the value of illusion, says Howe. "Memories true or false can have a negative or positive effect, depending on the context. The key point is: Just because a memory is false doesn't make it bad."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. L. Howe. The Adaptive Nature of Memory and Its Illusions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (5): 312 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411416571

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Illusory memories can have salutary effects." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005170739.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, October 6). Illusory memories can have salutary effects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005170739.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Illusory memories can have salutary effects." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005170739.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AP (Mar. 25, 2015) While distracted driving is not a new problem for teens, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it&apos;s much more serious than previously thought. (March 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) European researchers say our smartphone use offers scientists an ideal testing ground for human brain plasticity. Dr Ako Ghosh&apos;s team discovered that the brains and thumbs of smartphone users interact differently from those who use old-fashioned handsets. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) According to a new study by the Alzheimer&apos;s Association, more than half of those who have the degenerative brain disease aren&apos;t told by their doctors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) Researchers found those who napped for 45 minutes to an hour before being tested on information recalled it five times better than those who didn&apos;t. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins