A bearded male looking out of a round window. How Our Memory Can Lie

How Our Memory Can Lie


What is memory? I can hear you reply “It’s remembering…”. It can be remembering a word, a name, a situation, what you had for breakfast yesterday. Thing is, you don’t actually remember the situation itself. You are recalling the event from the last time you actually thought about it.

So, in reality, our memory of an event is only as good as it was the last time we thought about it. Can you remember what you had for dinner three days ago?

What does this mean for those of us wanting to change our life?

All the things you believe in, all the beliefs you have, everything that you hold true, are a build up of memories, yours or someone else’s. Considering that each memory is only as good as the last time you thought about it, how true is the memory you are now holding onto?

Is that belief really the way it ought to be?

False Memories

Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist and an expert on human memory, especially on eyewitness testimony. Through their experiments they found that a persons testimony could be influenced depending on the question posed by the person making the question.

In conducting interviews after caution, one of the key points we were taught was to ensure that we didn’t influence the interviewee’s answers by asking questions that included prompting (I cannot recall the exact term at this moment in time – I haven’t used it for a while [remember this!]).

For example, think about these three questions that I could ask:

“What was the person wearing?”
“What was she wearing?”
“Was he wearing a dark jumper?”
[just remembered the words I’m looking for – it’s called a leading question].

You can see that one question is open and the answer could be anything. The second directs you to think of a female (but it could have been a male). The last is more closed, indicating a male and a jumper (what if it was a female wearing a suit).

Our memory gets influenced by our environment – the people, the situation, the circumstances. Other peoples opinions can “mix” those memories up until we no longer know what is true and what is not.

The Mandela Effect

There are people who distinctly remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in 1980. There are even those who recall watching his funeral on television. But Nelson Mandela didn’t die in prison and went on to become the first black Prime Minister of South Africa, a sign of the true end of apartheid.

Have you ever played “Monopoly”? Describe the board. Can you remember the “Monopoly Guy”? What is he wearing? Top hat, moustache, cane, monocle, right?

Wrong. No monocle. He has never worn a monocle (look it up and convince yourself it is o, then come back here).

This is what’s called the Mandela Effect – the recollection of a false memory.

How memory works best

When we ask a question in context then we are more likely to remember what we want to remember. As I was writing the questions above I put myself in context and I recalled the phrase I wanted to remember – the context was writing investigative questions.

In my mind I was back in the interview room preparing the questions for the interview. I was back in context. This is a form of self cognitive interviewing. You put yourself back in the situation and run through the event until you recall what you want to recall. Don’t force it but let it play out by itself, every now and then asking questions you need the answers to.

We are able to recall events, words, ideas almost anywhere, provided that they are thoughts that we regularly have. In other words, they are habitual thoughts.

The point is …

It’s been more of a scientific article this time rather than the usual self help/personal development ones I usually write. But there is a point behind it besides to educate you how your mind works.

The point is this and this is important:

If our memories can be false, then how many of those beliefs that you hold are actually true. That memory of someone telling you that you are ugly, are you sure it’s not one you created because it’s what you thought what someone would say about you?

Poverty – who said you are poor or that you can’t earn more, much more, than you are already earning? It’s still a memory but it has a label called belief. Is that memory false?

Health – are you overweight and “can’t” loose “it”? What’s the memory you hold that says that “it’s just the way” you are? Is it true? Is it false?

You can apply this to ALL parts of your life. What memories are you holding onto that are false? Which ones are no longer real because they are so far gone in the past, that they no longer apply? And who is it that is keeping them alive?

A memory stays a memory only as long as you reinforce it. So reinforce the memories you want and replace the memories you don’t want with ones you do. Are you lying to yourself? Yes, but do you want a better life or not?

Change your memories, change the beliefs. It’s all in your power. And let go of resentment. It serves no one – especially you.

Every man’s memory is his private literature.
Aldous Huxley

Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.
Thomas Fuller

Photograph by: StockSnap on Pixabay

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    • 13 December 2019

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    • treylloyd
    • 6 December 2019

    Thank you, I have just been searching for info approximately this subject for a while and yours is the best I’ve found out so far. However, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you positive concerning the source?

    1. Reply


      Thank you for your comment.

      You’ve got to look at memory for what it is – a load of puzzle pieces that we put together whenever we want to remember something. It has been shown that neurons strengthen, they get reinforced with repetition (just like you did when you learned to drive a car to ride a bike or learned to read and write).

      All that we do is a form of memory. So in the same way that we can update our memory (learning a new skill) we can reinforce a new belief. You strengthen the new belief and by doing so you are focussing on that and not the old one. The result is that you strengthen the neurons for the new thought and, because the old thought has not been used, it’s neurons will weaken.

      We do the same with remembering events in our lives. The less we think of them the weaker the clarity of the events will get. Our memory will be the last memory we had, not the first time we had the event.

      It’s all the same thing because it’s all the same system.

      It doesn’t matter which pasta you use, it all gets cooked the same way. It doesn’t matter what thought it is or memory (event or belief), its all about neurons.

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