Human memory capacity is pretty amazing, but don't fall into the trap of thinking you can rely on it all the time. It turns out that our brains can play tricks on us, and there are lots of reasons why you can't trust your own memory. From our inability to lodge colors into the old memory bank to our tendency to remember positive things and forget negative ones, we have memories that are more like rose-tinted biopics than gritty documentaries. In fact, thousands of people who don't even know each other are capable of having the exact same false memory of something.
Read on for reasons why you should never trust your own memory. And write them down so you don't forget.
The Human Eye Is Not A Camera
When humans look at something, they tend to focus on the details that are most interesting to them. If you like someone's shirt, for example, you'll remember that detail most accurately and ignore the rest of their appearance. Human eyes do not capture images the way a camera does, and they actually skim over the whole picture. They dart around to capture the basic idea of what you're looking at, but you'll probably only retain the details that intrigued you, making it really hard to accurately recreate a full visual field in your memory.
- Photo: Newmarket Films
Sometimes Memories Don't Get "Saved" Properly
When you create a memory, it's stored on an unconscious level and brought to the forefront when it needs to be recalled. But sometimes the system that stores a memory can malfunction, causing the memory to not be "saved" properly. For example, if you place your keys somewhere and tell yourself not to forget them, you may not remember those keys when it's time to leave. This happens for one of three reasons: your brain didn't actually register where you placed the keys; you didn't retain what your brain registered; or, you can't retrieve the memory accurately. The only fool-proof way to remember things may be to have them tattooed on your body like in Memento.
- Photo: MGM
Repeated Exposure To False Information Makes You Believe It's True
The 'Illusory Truth Effect' is a glitch in the brain that makes us believe a lie if we hear it enough times. Master manipulators are great at using this to their advantage - see pretty much any political campaign for an example. When you see or hear something for the second time, your brain understands it more quickly and equates comprehension with truth. So next time you read something that feels like fake news, take a minute to look into it before your brain stores it as a fact.
- Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
Getting Older Makes It Harder To Remember Things
Rose had absolutely no problem recalling her life story in Titanic, but many people are not so lucky. The hippocampus, which is a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, deteriorates as we age. Hormone levels and blood flow to the brain also decrease as we get older, so it's much harder to remember things like names and where you left your keys.