Who are eidetics, how do false memories work, and three popular myths about memory

Who are eidetics, how do false memories work, and three popular myths about memory

Memory - amazing brain ability and despite the fact that it has been studied for quite some time, there are quite a few false - or, at least, not quite accurate ideas about it.

We will tell you about the most popular of them, plus why it’s not so easy to forget everything, what makes us “steal” someone else’s memory and how made-up memories affect our lives.

Photos Ben White - Unsplash

Photographic memory is the ability to "remember everything"

A photographic memory is the idea that a person at any moment can make a kind of instantaneous “snapshot” of the surrounding reality and after some time “extract” it from the halls of the mind intact. In fact, this myth is based on the (also false) notion that human memory continuously records everything that a person sees around him. This myth is quite stable and tenacious in modern culture - for example, it was this process of “mnemonic recording” that led to the appearance of the famous damned videotape from the cycle of Koji Suzuki’s “Call” novels.

In the “Bell” universe, this may be realistic - however, in our reality, the existence of “one hundred percent” photographic memory in practice has not yet been confirmed. Memory is closely connected with creative processing and understanding of information, self-awareness and self-identification have a strong impact on our memories.

Therefore, scientists are skeptical of claims that a person can mechanically “record” or “photograph” reality. Often behind them are hours of training and the use of mnemonic techniques. Moreover, the first case of a “photographic” memory described in science is sharply criticized .

This is the work of Charles Stromeyer III (Charles Stromeyer III). In 1970, he published in Nature magazine a material about a certain Elizabeth, a Harvard student who could at one glance memorize pages of poems in an unfamiliar language. And even more - having looked with one eye at an image from 10,000 random points, and the next day with another eye at a second similar image, she was able in her imagination to combine both patterns and “see” a volumetric autostereogram.

True, other owners of exceptional memory could not repeat its success. Elizabeth herself also did not re-take the tests - and after a while she married Stromeyer, which heightened the scientists' skepticism about his “discovery” and motives.
Closest to the myth of the photographic memory eideism is the ability to hold and reproduce in detail the visual (and sometimes taste, tactile, auditory and olfactory) images. According to some testimonies, Tesla, Reagan, and Aivazovsky had an exceptional eidetic memory, and eidetic images from Lisbeth Salander to Dr. Strange were also popular in popular culture. However, eidetic memory is also not mechanical — even they cannot “rewind a record” at any arbitrary moment and view it all over again, in full detail. Eidetics, like other people, require emotional involvement, understanding of the subject, and interest in what is happening - and in this case, their memory may overlook or correct certain details.

Amnesia is total memory loss

This myth is also fueled by plots from pop culture - the hero-victim of amnesia usually loses all memory of his past as a result of the incident, but at the same time freely communicates with others and generally understands quite well. In fact, amnesia can manifest itself in different ways, and the one described above is far from the most common.

Photo Stefano Pollio - Unsplash

For example, with retrograde amnesia, the patient may not remember the events that preceded the injury or illness, but usually retains the memory of autobiographical information, especially childhood and adolescence. In the case of anterograde amnesia, the victim, on the contrary, loses the ability to memorize new events, but, on the other hand, remembers what happened to him before the injury.

A situation where a hero cannot remember anything at all about his past can relate to a dissociative disorder, for example, the state Dissociative Fugue . In this case, the person really does not remember anything about himself and his past life, moreover, he can invent a new biography and name for himself. The reason for this kind of amnesia is usually not a disease or an accidental injury, but violent events or severe stress - it’s good that in life this happens less often than in the movies.

The outside world does not affect our memory

This is another misconception that also originates from the idea that our memory accurately and consistently captures the events happening to us. At first glance, it seems that this is the case: we had some kind of incident. We remembered it. Now, if necessary, we can “extract” this episode from our memory - and “play” it as a video clip.

Maybe this analogy is appropriate, but there is one “but”: unlike a real movie, this clip will change when “playing” - depending on our new experience, environment, psychological attitude, character of the interlocutors. In this case, we are not talking about a deliberate lie - it may seem to the reminder that he tells the same story every time - the way it was in reality.

The fact is that memory is not only a physiological, but also a social construct. Remembering and telling some episodes from our lives, we often unconsciously correct them, taking into account the interests of our interlocutors. Moreover, we can “borrow” or “steal” other people's memories - and we succeeded well in this.

In particular, scientists from the Southern Methodist University in the USA are engaged in borrowing memory. In one of their research it was found that this phenomenon is quite widespread - more than half of the respondents (students college) noted that faced with a situation where someone of their friends retelling their own stories in the first person. At the same time, part of the respondents were confident that the retelling events really happened to them, and were not “overheard.”

Memories can not only borrow, but come up with - this is the so-called false memory. In this case, the person is absolutely sure that he correctly remembered this or that event - usually it concerns small details, nuances, or individual facts. For example, you can confidently “remember” how your new acquaintance presented himself as Sergey, while in reality his name is Stas. Or “to remember absolutely exactly” how they put an umbrella in their bag (they actually wanted to put it in, but got distracted).

Sometimes a false memory may not be so harmless: one thing is to “remember” that you forgot to feed the cat, and the other is to convince yourself that you have committed a crime and to construct detailed “memories” of what happened. This kind of memory is studied by a group of scientists from Bedfordshire University in England.

Photo Josh Hild - Unsplash

In one of their research they showed that false memories of an alleged crime did not just exist - they can be created in a controlled experiment. Following the three interviews, 70% of the research participants “admitted” that they committed an attack or theft when they were teenagers, and “remembered” the details of their “crimes”.

False memories are a relatively new area of ​​interest for scientists, not only neurobiologists and psychologists, but also criminologists turn to it. This feature of our memory can shed light on how and why people give false testimony and slander themselves - it is not always behind this malicious intent.

Memory is connected with imagination and social interactions, it can be lost, re-created, stolen and invented - perhaps the real facts related to our memory turn out to be no less, and sometimes more interesting, than myths and misconceptions about it.

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Source text: Who are eidetics, how do false memories work, and three popular myths about memory