Explain and evaluate what research has taught us about why our memories are not always accurate.
Memory is believed to be an active process which selects information to encode and store ready for retrieval if needed. From encoding through to retrieval memories can be constructed and reconstructed, showing why memories are not always accurate. This essay will aim to explore and evaluate the research of memory. It will aim to provide evidence to support the theory that our memories are not always accurate, and to offset this with evidence to support otherwise. There will be key areas of research that it will explore, starting with the construction of memories and how they can be processed through our internal ‘computer system’ of encoding, storage and retrieval and the subsystems of Sensory memory, Short Term Memory (STM) and Long Term Memory (LTM). It will also look at memory pliability and how we can be led into thinking that something happened differently to how we actually witnessed it at the time. Collective memories are also a key area of this essay and to finish there will be a brief look at the affect that brain damage has on the encoding and storage of memories.
Constructing memories is something that begins with encoding information at a basic level of sensory input where the information is held just long enough for it to be processed further through the STM and into storage in the LTM, ready for retrieval when needed (Brace & Roth, 2007). Many factors can influence the accuracy of memories stored in the LTM. Craik and Lockhart (1972) had a theory that the level of processing involved at the sensory level effected the recall ability of information as it wasn’t processed deep enough for the memory to be accurate (as cited in Brace & Roth, 2007, p.119).
There are many factors that affect the construction and reconstruction of memory. Elaboration by the adding and omitting of details over the years, the fading of memory with age and also external influences, all which effect the accuracy of a memory. In contrast, Brown and Kulik (1977) found that a person’s memory can be highly accurate when recalling an event, if the event had personal relevance and a high surprise factor. For example, the World Trade Center disaster in 2001 would perhaps be better remembered by American citizens as it has a more personal relevance to them. For example; although I myself can remember where I was on the day that it happened I think this is because it was such a surprising and terrible event, but I do not remember who I was with or how I was told so my memory of this is not a fully accurate one. In support of this, Conway et al. (1994) found in their study on participants memory of the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, one year on, 86% of 215 UK resident participants were able to recall accurately compared with 29% of 154 non-UK residents participants (as cited in Brace & Roth, 2007, p.140). This shows that memories are most likely to be stored accurately if it has a more personal affect.
Collective memories are also an interesting area of research. Experiences of important past events can be shared between people to create memories, even if as an individual you don’t remember that particular event happening (Brace et al., 2007, p.142). Collective memories in families are used to express an identity or tradition and pass this on through generations (Miller, 2000. as cited in Brace & Roth, 2007) so that family history and reputation is maintained. Collective family memories are made up of stories that have been elaborated and changed through time with information added or left out to create, at times, a less than accurate memory of events. Gergen (1999, as cited in Brace & Roth, 2007) also supports the theory that collective memories are not always accurate as they can be formed to help construct and reconstruct history (Brace & Roth, 2007, p.143). Evidence of this comes from South Africa in the late twentieth century when...
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