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."

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 September 21, 2014 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 September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) New research shows that women who suffer from PTSD are three times more likely to develop a food addiction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
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:
from the past week

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