12 Reasons You Should Never Trust Your Own Memory

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.

  • Thousands Of People Can Misremember The Same Thing

    Remember that '90s movie Shazaam starring Sinbad? Lots of people do, but it never actually happened. It's an example of the Mandela Effect, the phenomenon in which thousands of unrelated people misremember the same event. The name was coined by Fiona Bloome after Nelson Mandela's death in 2013 because people all over the world had a vivid memory of him dying in the 1980s.

    Other examples of the Mandela Effect include the children's book series The Berenstain Bears being remembered as The Berenstein Bears and The Flintstones being misspelled as The Flinstones.

  • If You Can Google It, You Won't Remember It

    Now that you can Google pretty much anything at any time - receiving the exact information you want right when you want it with very little effort - your brain has the tendency to forget the things you've learned. If your brain perceives that it can find the information elsewhere, it just won't bother to retain the facts. This phenomenon is called the Google Effect.

  • Forgotten Memories Can Feel New And Original
    Photo: CBS Films

    Forgotten Memories Can Feel New And Original

    A phenomenon known as cryptomnesia can make accidental plagiarists of us all. Sometimes, we read or hear something and store it in our brains, only to remember it later as a completely original idea. These ideas can lay dormant in our minds for months or years and resurface without us realizing it, which is part of the reason why movies, TV shows, and books can (legitimately) be accidentally plagiarized.

  • You Can't Judge The Accuracy Of Your Own Memory
    Photo: Gramercy Pictures

    You Can't Judge The Accuracy Of Your Own Memory

    Every time you remember something, your memory is a little less accurate than the time before. Think of it as a game of telephone where you keep repeating a memory to yourself over and over again. Each time you repeat it, certain details become fuzzier. But you have no reason to think your memory is less than perfect and probably won't realize you're wrong until you're confronted with evidence. This is why eyewitness testimony in criminal cases is not always reliable.

  • 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.

  • Sometimes Memories Don't Get "Saved" Properly
    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.