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  • What's your first memory?

  • Whatever it is, you're bound to cherish it.

  • The Greek philosopher Aristotle once called memory, "the scribe of the soul," meaning that our memories are integral to our sense of self.

  • But can we actually trust them?

  • Nothing about memory is simple.

  • For starters, where are memories stored?

  • In which part of the brain?

  • Hundreds of studies have come to the same conclusionthere isn't one.

  • They're stored, processed, and moved around the brain, creating complex connections across neural networks that we still don't fully understand.

  • The potential storage capacity of the human brain is vast.

  • It's not possible to quantify exactly, but estimates put it in the multimillions of gigabytes.

  • But memory is malleable.

  • What we remember is not necessarily what happened.

  • A memory is not a recording.

  • It's more like a dramatic reconstruction and one that we can keep changing without realizing it.

  • For any experience to be remembered, it has to be encoded.

  • This encoding though is not any kind of direct translation.

  • It's a rich and complex process that creates associations and meanings.

  • As sensory information is encoded, and also whenever it's retrieved, it's interpreted in a way that can change it, and introduce errors.

  • Memory is a creative process, because unlike computers, we need to be able to make sense of the information we store.

  • That means we're never remembering things exactly the way they occurred.

  • We might be remembering something very similar, but subtly modified and colored by our own sets of associations.

  • Two people who see the same thing won't necessarily remember the same thing.

  • And in certain situations that's very problematic.

  • Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus produced groundbreaking research on eyewitness testimony.

  • Her work showed that memories can easily be influenced, even after they've been created.

  • For example, if investigators ask witnesses a leading question about a crimesuch as, "what color coat was he wearing?"—their memories may adapt to incorporate the suggestions.

  • Similarly, if two eyewitnesses confer with each other, their memories of events often change, incorporating what they've heard from the other one but they won't realize this has happened.

  • And witnesses who are shown an image of a someone after a crime, even if it's one of an innocent person, can sometimes paste it on to their memory of the actual event, a process known as unconscious transference.

  • The Innocence Project estimates that around 70 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, are due to mistaken eyewitness testimony.

  • In some cases, memories can even be deliberately created and implanted.

  • The Lost in the Mall experiment took a test group of subjects and talked to them in depth about key childhood memories, while also adding an invented one: the experience of having been lost in a shopping mall.

  • It was found that between a quarter and a third of subjects not only accepted this new memory as genuine, but enriched it with specific details.

  • They'd created a new memory indistinguishable from memories of events that had actually happened.

  • We've all possibly done the same thing.

  • Most of us have certain key memories of being a very young child.

  • But research suggests that they're highly unlikely to be actual memories due to the way memory is stored in the infant brain.

  • In many cases, we probably imagined certain scenes at a later age, when shown photos or told stories about certain events.

  • The subjective experience of these memories is no different to remembering childhood events that actually happened.

  • Your precious first memory may well not be a real memory, and we're all perhaps living in our imaginations more than we realise.

  • Thanks for watching.

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  • See you again soon!

What's your first memory?

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B1 UK memory stored remembering encoded eyewitness brain

Why your first memory is probably wrong | BBC Ideas

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    Annie Huang posted on 2020/07/11
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