Notes Psychology

Myth 11: Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera (50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology)

Many people and psychologists think that memory is stored in the brain the way we store information in a tape recorder, but our recollection of the past is not nearly so accurate.

The popular belief about the exactness of our memory stems from residues from the ideas of Sigmund Freud, who contended that forgotten and traumatic memories exist somewhere in the unconscious. But as William James, a contemporary of Freud, observed ,“False memories are by no means rare occurrences in most of us.”

But the belief in accurate memory has ramifications for the justice system. Eyewitnesses often express with confidence their inaccurate recollections. This is troubling. A survey showed that a third of American judges thought that there was a strong association between eyewitness confidence and accuracy of memory, but this has been shown to be false. Even worse, in 2009, 239 criminal defendants were freed on the basis of DNA evidence – 75% of them were convicted because of inaccurate eyewitness testimony.

Today, psychologists think that memory is not reproductive, it does not duplicate what we experienced, but rather that it is reconstructive. When we recall the past, we mix accurate information with our beliefs and emotions.

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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