The Misconception Of Vivid Memories

Clark W. Griswold from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Think back to a particular event that happened at least 5 years ago (a wedding, a family gathering, a dinner, etc.). Remember the people, and where you were. Maybe you can remember details like the weather or what you were wearing.

When you recall this memory, it likely plays in your head like a video clip. Because we experience memories in this way, people tend to believe that those memories are stored in their entirety. Despite this belief, memories are not video clips stored on the hard drive of the mind. They are nerve pathways that fire every time we recall an event. Each time we think of a memory, it is recreated.

Say you & a very close sibling had a wonderful vacation together. Years later, you and the sibling had a falling out. As time passes, experiences that occurred after the vacation will begin to become introduced into the original vacation memory. Because the falling out was severe, you may recall your sibling was impetuous on the vacation even though they were not.

Additionally, your mind will also fill memory gaps with information that is probable but not necessarily true. Maybe the vacation was in Seattle and so you believe it rained during your trip (even though it was actually sunny).

Memories are highly malleable and evolve over time. Awareness of this allows us to take recollections of others (and ourselves) with a grain of salt.

This was Article 5 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.


Works Cited
Clem, R. L., & Huganir, R. L. (2010). Calcium-permeable AMPA receptor dynamics mediate fear memory erasure. science, 330(6007), 1108–1112.


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Roediger, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of experimental psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(4), 803.

Roediger, H. L., Wheeler, M. A., & Rajaram, S. (1993). Remembering, knowing, and reconstructing the past. The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory, 30, 97–134.

Weinschenk, S. (2011). 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (Voices That Matter). New Riders.

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