General, Research, Technology

Why is bad memory good?

It is not uncommon to hear people complaining aboutbad memory and dream of getting better. Surely many have found themselves in a situation where they ask you if you had a good weekend, and you just can't remember enough details to give an answer. The Astana University psychologist Robert Nash, who studies the work of memory, writes in an article for The Conversation that "his memory is simply terrible." But precisely because Nash studies how we memorize information, he is acutely aware that the flaws in our memory, however unpleasant and inconvenient they may be, are among its most important characteristics. The point is that human memory is not like a recording device for recording and storing information, or, for example, on a hard disk. Instead, human memory conveys only the essence of events, often with a decent amount of distortion. But why?

Human memory is unreliable, but it may not be as bad as it sounds

How do we remember events?

Think about the things that you are not particularly good atremember. In one study, university students were asked to recall their grades in school. They were told that the researchers had full access to their personal data (estimates), so it was clear that deliberate distortion of the truth would do nothing.

Results showed that students were wrongremembered about a fifth of their own estimates, but not all of the estimates named during the experiment were incorrect. It turned out that the higher the score, the more likely it was that the students remembered it: the students recalled the fives almost immediately, while the three and two with difficulty. In general, students much more often recalled good grades and even exaggerated them (instead of four, five, instead of three, four) than they recalled bad grades, and the worse the grades were, the less often they were remembered.

Studies like these illustrate howour memory can be selfish and selective. Nash argues that we remember some events distortedly, as positive memories support our well-being. In other cases, remembering events not as they really were can help strengthen our faith in justice and fairness.

Sergei Dovlatov wrote: "Our memory is as selective as an urn."

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In another study by Canadian scientists,the subjects read the story of a man named Roger who won several million dollars in the lottery. One group of subjects was told that Roger worked hard and was kind to others: in other words, he deserved to win. Subjects in the other group learned that Roger was lazy, complained a lot and never smiled, which meant he didn't deserve a prize. When asked to recall exactly how much money Roger won, those who thought he didn't deserve it argued that his prize was, on average, $ 280,000 less than the figure cited by those who thought he deserved it. ...

And these are just a few of the manyexamples where our memory behaves like a good friend, protecting us from bad news or violent gossip from others. When we learn reliable news that a fraudster has been hired to work for a prestigious law firm, we, subsequently, do not remember that we received this news from a reliable source. And in the case when someone critically evaluates our character traits, we selectively forget many not the most flattering moments.

The structure and work of the brain is the greatest mystery of modern science

The cumulative effect of such small self-deceptions withthe passage of time leads to the fact that our memory paints a distorted, but generally more positive picture of the world and ourselves. And who wouldn't want to wear those pink glasses?

In a recent study, psychologists asked members of the general public if they would (hypothetically) take a drug that was guaranteed to dull the pain of traumatic memories.

Strikingly, the majority (82%) responded thatno. There is no doubt that we attach great importance to the (apparent) credibility of our personal memories, both good and bad, and it is therefore clear that the idea of ​​actively interfering with these memories seems completely unattractive to many of us.

Though distorted and false memories are oftenare a hindrance to our daily lives and sometimes are disastrous, they can also work miracles to maintain our self-esteem, satisfaction in life and well-being. Read about what time of day our memory works best in the material of my colleague Ramis Ganiev.