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  • Translator: Hiroko Kawano Reviewer: Peter van de Ven

  • I want to take you on an adventure

  • into the weird world of memory hacking.

  • What I want you to do is to rethink memory.

  • I want you to think about your memories,

  • rather than as accurate recollections, permanent records of the past,

  • instead of that, I want you to think of your memories as stories.

  • Stories that you tell yourself to make sense of your life -

  • why you're here; who you are -

  • stories that you tell other people, part of your tribe,

  • showing that you're part of the group:

  • this is who we are.

  • But before I begin this journey into memory science

  • and understanding how easy it is to distort these stories,

  • I'm going to tell you a little anecdote.

  • It starts with my mom and it ends with my aunt.

  • So here is the situation:

  • My mom went to Switzerland.

  • On this trip to Switzerland, she went into - well, to get her car,

  • and she was in a garage underground.

  • She gets into the passenger seat of her car.

  • My father gets into the driver's seat.

  • They try to exit the garage.

  • On the way out,

  • there is a man standing at the exit, blocking their way out of this garage.

  • He's clearly not well;

  • he's talking to himself;

  • he's disheveled.

  • And my mom, to try to get him out of the way,

  • gets out of the car and says, "Sir, can you please get out of the way?"

  • And the man, instead of responding the way that normal people would,

  • which is by moving,

  • he runs at my mom,

  • pushes her into the car,

  • and starts punching her.

  • Now, my dad's response to this is to drive away -

  • of course, everyone's in shock -

  • and they get out of the situation, and my mom is okay.

  • But of course, for my mom,

  • this was an earth-shattering moment.

  • A stranger randomly attacked her,

  • this kind of thing had never happened to her.

  • So what does she do?

  • Naturally, she tells her family about it;

  • she tells her friends about it;

  • the story is told full of emotion.

  • Now, a year later,

  • my aunt is telling the same story

  • full of emotion,

  • full of confidence and conviction,

  • full of details

  • and claims that she was in the backseat.

  • Now, that's impossible.

  • I said this story happened in Switzerland, and my aunt lives in Germany.

  • Even when confronted with this fact

  • that there is no way she could have possibly been in the back of this car,

  • she doesn't want to let go of this memory,

  • because it feels so real.

  • So how do we find ourselves in a situation

  • where we confuse things that we think we've experienced -

  • our memories -

  • with things that we have actually experienced?

  • So this is where I'm coming from;

  • this is where our stories begin.

  • And so if we rethink our past as a story,

  • and we think about writing these stories and who gets to write these stories,

  • who gets to write into our memory box?

  • It might be a little more complicated than we often think.

  • And ultimately what we find is

  • that just like my aunt was not actually the witness of my mom's crime -

  • as much as she might identify as this witness;

  • this may have been an important part of her personal narrative -

  • it's not true.

  • And the same thing goes for you:

  • that there might be important moments of your life -

  • memories of your childhood, memories of lost loves -

  • that don't make sense at all.

  • And so you might not actually be the person you think you are,

  • certainly if you're resting your identity on your memories.

  • So I want you to dare to question your memories.

  • And no memory is off-limits.

  • Just because it's emotional or complex, just because it feels real

  • doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

  • So question your memories:

  • "How do I know that this actually happened?"

  • Because when you do that, you dare to question yourself: "Who am I?"

  • And if you can't trust your memories,

  • What then?

  • And ultimately it leads you to question your reality.

  • So let's talk about that.

  • What is your reality?

  • So, before we even begin to talk about distorting memories,

  • let's talk about where memories begin.

  • Memories begin at perception.

  • That doesn't need to be perception of the real world,

  • that can be perception, that can be idea,

  • that can be something that we think about -

  • because we can also remember things we've thought about or dreams -

  • but often we talk about perception in real life.

  • And of course, here, neuroscience and people who study psychology,

  • like myself,

  • are clear that you have a unique perceptual filter.

  • Every one of you has a different set of eyes,

  • different set of ears, different smells.

  • But that's not where it ends.

  • You also have a different worldview.

  • You have a completely different set of memories

  • that you bring into every situation,

  • and those matter.

  • You could even argue that we're living in a simulation.

  • Reality as you know it

  • only exists to you.

  • And so, from their very inception, from the very beginning of a memory,

  • it's already filtered, it's already tainted.

  • Let me give you an example

  • of how perception can filter how we make decisions

  • and ultimately how those memories of our lives,

  • of things that we think are important,

  • can change how we make decisions.

  • So, all right.

  • This is a study I did with Stephen Porter, Leanne ten Brinke and Natasha Korva

  • and published in 2013,

  • where what we did is we gave participants a photo.

  • And we said, alongside this photo,

  • this person was a murderer.

  • This person, or at least is convicted - oh, not convicted -

  • is a suspect in a murder case.

  • So this suspect, we give you the case,

  • we give you pieces of evidence,

  • 11 pieces of evidence in increasing severity.

  • Now, what we find is that people, generally, the more evidence they get,

  • the more likely they are to convict someone.

  • And that makes sense.

  • But there is one important difference

  • in terms of how many pieces of evidence you need to convict someone,

  • and that has to do with how trustworthy the picture of the person's face is.

  • So you look at someone, and in that moment,

  • you make a snap decision:

  • "I trust this person," or "I don't trust this person."

  • And you're basing that decision,

  • as to whether or not this person might be capable

  • of this horrendous crime that were accusing him of,

  • just based on your memories.

  • This is, in general, what society has bombarded you with:

  • this is what an offender looks like.

  • And if a person matches that stereotype you're more likely to make a bad decision.

  • And so what we found is that people who look less trustworthy

  • need fewer pieces of evidence to have a juror reach a guilty verdict,

  • and - and this is what's most important, I think -

  • is that when you give people exonerating evidence,

  • when you give people an 11th piece of evidence

  • that says, actually, the DNA in this case doesn't match the suspect -

  • arguably most people would say, "Oh, that makes sense to them,"

  • say, "Oh, not guilty," so to exonerate -

  • what we find is that trustworthy people are much more likely to be exonerated

  • than untrustworthy people.

  • So again, this perception in the moment is clouding your decision making.

  • And so you're bringing that to the table.

  • It's changing your worldview.

  • So perception influences our memories,

  • perception influences how we remember people

  • and how we interact with them.

  • And so that can be distorted.

  • And that can be distorted by things that we don't even notice.

  • But before we move on

  • to the penultimate thing that I want to talk about,

  • which is memory hacking -

  • which is how we can actually, actively distort people's memories -

  • let's also talk a bit about the brain.

  • Because you need to understand how the brain works

  • in order to understand why memories are so flexible, so slippery.

  • Every day, you wake up a new person.

  • Now, the reason for that

  • is that your brain is constantly changing.

  • From the beginning of this sentence to the end of this sentence,

  • your brain looks different.

  • And that's a good thing

  • because it means that you're able to be creative and to learn,

  • you're able to take on new information and weave it into your brain

  • in a way that you can possibly use later.

  • And so if you understand that your brain is constantly in motion,

  • you also understand that this hugely complex organ ...

  • if we break it down into a network,

  • into the network that is the memory,

  • we see that it's possible to forget things,

  • to remember things and to misremember things.

  • Now, if you think about memory as a network,

  • forgetting is when you cut the connection between two parts of a memory.

  • Now, when we talk about memories of our lives, of autobiographical memories,

  • what we normally talk about are things like,

  • "Oh, I felt this." " I heard this." " I saw this."

  • They're called multi-sensory details.

  • They're complex.

  • And these multi-sensory details are actually stored in networks

  • across the different parts of the brain

  • that are each responsible for those sensations,

  • which is why we can relive,

  • or feel to relive these magical times in our lives.

  • But when we forget, what happens is

  • that you've cut a connection between some of these sensations,

  • some of these details.

  • And when you misremember or you have a false memory,

  • which is what I study,

  • you reconnect pieces or connect pieces for the first time

  • in ways that were never originally together.

  • So you might think, "Oh, I remember that smell,"

  • but then you have it in the wrong place.

  • So you've connected things that aren't supposed to be together.

  • And that's the basis of memory errors,

  • is that your flexible brain is creatively recombining things.

  • So here we move on to the last part,

  • which is I think the most exciting,

  • which is the social influence part:

  • the idea that your memories are not just your own,

  • your memories are subject to social influence.

  • So back to the stories.

  • If you think of your memories, all of your memories,

  • as living in a library ...

  • Now, that library sucks.

  • It's a really bad library.

  • Why?

  • Because people can walk into the library;

  • they can take out the book; they can rip out pages;

  • they can cross things out; they can write over them.

  • In fact, every single time that you take a book out of your own library,

  • you're required to delete the whole thing and rewrite it from scratch.

  • And then you put it back in the shelf.

  • Now, this will also change depending on who you're talking to.

  • If you're talking to a friend, you might change your story a little bit.

  • You might enhance the parts

  • that the person is responding to positively with "uh, yeah."

  • And you might ignore or delete the parts where the person's going,

  • "This isn't very interesting."

  • So who we're talking to matters.

  • And if we arrive at my research, which I'm going to describe now,

  • which is that I convince people that they committed crimes

  • or had other emotional experiences that never happened.

  • Things like, you would come into my lab,

  • and I might convince you that you were attacked by an animal,

  • that you lost a large sum of money,

  • or that you injured yourself.

  • Alternatively -

  • because I'm a criminal psychologist -

  • I'm also interested in trying to convince you that you committed a crime,

  • a crime like attacking someone, attacking someone with a weapon

  • or stealing something - all with police contact.

  • Now, what happens in these situations is that 70% of the participants

  • ultimately come to accept this alternate reality,