Memories are made of….

What are memories made of?  Well they are certainly not ‘carved in stone’ as we might believe, and nor are they exact pictures of what happened.  In fact memory is the most flexible of cognitive processes, and can be altered drastically by time passing, suggestions made to you after the event, and by stress during an event.  Just talk to your brother, sister or friend about something that happened when you were both present, some years ago.  have you got the same memory about it?  No, but of course, yours is correct and they are mistaken!  Take a look at the video below for an introduction into how memories of events that didn’t even take place can be implanted into people’s minds.

However, tricks aside, it is possible to change a person’s memory by tweaking the mental schema (experiential framework) which is shaping the event.  Loftus and Palmer (1974) did this with eyewitness testimonies of a filmed ‘car crash’.  Their research demonstrated that witnesses’ estimates of the speed of the vehicles could be manipulated just by changing the verb that is used to describe the accident:  ‘smashed’ evoked a much faster speed estimate than ‘collided’.

Not only this, but people from different cultures remember in different ways, and through our education, most of us are used to trying to remember lists of facts, words, psychology studies, by sorting and chunking into categories.  However, as Rogoff and Waddell (1982) found, unschooled Mayan children remembered better using a narrative method and a diorama.  Try this narrative memory method  and see how you get on.  As the cross-cultural studies demonstrate, there is more than one way to remember things!

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