Let's Explore our Memory: Memory Distortions.

So far, we have learned in our blog-isodes that remembering depends upon encoding and retrieval. But both of these are affected by still another factor that we've discussed only in passing:

what the learner already knows


Remembering happens based on what we already know, which affects how we remember things. Without knowing beforehand, we wouldn't understand the words we hear, how they relate to each other, or how they connect to what's happening in the world.

We've also seen that organization helps us to remember. But it is also almost always based on connecting what we hear and see with what we already know.

It's easier to recall the first nine squares than the sequence 149162536496481 (because we know about numbers and squares) and easier to recall some disconnected sentences that are preceded by the title " Doing the laundry " than if they're not (be cause we know about laundry routines).

Check this examples out from our previous blog-isodes through these links:

Here's another example: a study where people listened to a recording describing half of an inning in a made-up baseball game.

Some of the people really knew a lot about baseball, while others knew only a little (but still had a basic idea of the game's rules). When they were asked later to write down what they remembered from the recording, the experts did much better than the people who didn't know much about baseball.

Using what we already know in memory works like how our expectations influence what we see. Just like in seeing things, this can be really useful. However, just like with seeing, what we know and expect can sometimes make us remember things wrongly. Just as we can see things incorrectly, we can also remember things incorrectly, which happens a lot.

It's getting Interesting Right?

This leads us to one major discussion under this series:

Memory Distortions

Several years ago, the British psychologist Frederic Bartlett conducted some very important experiments on how memories can change over time. Bartlett's participants were asked to recall stories from different cultures, which were unfamiliar to them.

When they tried to remember these stories, they made a lot of changes. They left out some parts, added more details, and even invented new elements. Basically, they ended up creating a new story based on the bits and pieces they could remember from the original.

Interestingly, the new stories the participants came up with were often more in line with their own cultural beliefs and ideas, rather than the actual story they had heard. For instance, they might reinterpret supernatural parts of the story to fit more with what they were familiar with.

In another version of the experiment, Bartlett had one person hear the story and then tell it to another person, who then told it to another, and so on. This chain of retelling led to even more changes in the story each time. Each person's altered memory became the basis for the next person's version, leading to big changes over time.

Many experiments support Bartlett's idea that how we remember events or stories is heavily influenced by the knowledge we already have.

For example, in one study, people were told to imagine a house from either:

  • that of a prospective home buyer
  • that of a burglar .

When they were asked to remember later, it turned out that the different viewpoints influenced what they recalled:

  • in the case of the " home buyers , " a leaky roof
  • in the case of the burglars , a valuable coin collection.

In a different study, subjects who were told a story about someone going to the dentist, falsely remembered hearing certain details that usually happen at a dentist's office, like checking in at the reception or reading a magazine in the waiting room, even though these details were not actually mentioned in the story.

In each of these situations, what the people remembered was influenced by what they already knew about the world. They had certain expectations about how home buyers, burglars, and dental patients typically act, and they adjusted their memories to fit these general ideas.

In line with Bartlett's ideas, many modern psychologists use the term "schemas" to describe these mental frameworks. In this context, a schema is a general structure in our minds where we slot in information or events, focusing more on the big picture than on specific details.

We are often met with repetitive experiences; like as people go to a house, they must look at the roof and basement; or when people are going to see a dentist, they usually report at the reception.

Schema denotes a concise portrayal of these repetitive patterns, which help us make sense of and fill in the details of what was remembered.

A particular type of schema is called “script.” It gives an illustration of how events follow each other in a given environment. For example, there is a script for going to a restaurant that involves being shown where to sit, looking through the menu card, making orders, eating food, paying bills and walking out. In the same way, we also have a script for visiting our dentist as I said earlier.

The Bus Stops Here for today:

Thank you for joining me in today's blog-isode. I hope you found it interesting. I value your thoughts on this subject or any of my blog-isodes, so feel free to drop them below. I enjoy writing and want to ensure my readers enjoy reading. Until next time, stay safe, friends.

References and links:





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