Psychology: Memory

How Things Get Remembered
Long-Term Memory System
Memory Organization
Encoding and LTM
Remembering and Forgetting

Searching for Memory
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Source Amnesia, Fantasy blends Reality:

Sometimes, people forget when, where and how they obtained information. This is known as source amnesia. You are able to recall events, however, not sure how you learned about them. The failure to remember the correct source of information causes us great confusion. It is often the cause for false re-collections and confabulation/distortion of memory.

For example, your friend told you about his bike trip to Wisconsin. A year later, you recall details about the trip, however, you are not sure about how you learned about the details. You may falsely conclude that you have traveled to Wisconsin. You may reason that you recall things so clearly, you must have been there yourself. The source of the information - your friend - is forgotten, and the second-hand information is integrated in your memory.

Or maybe your friend told you that apples are bad for you because they are high in fat. You may later recall the fact, and wonder how you learned about it. You conclude that you learned it from TV or the news paper article. You may avoid eating apples believing that they are high in fat. (In reality, apples contain no fat). You give the knowledge more weight if you believe you learned about it from credible media instead of an unreliable friend.

If source amnesia is carried too far, you may recall fictional information as your own memory. For example, if your mom decided to tell you a story when you were a young child. She made up a character - your imaginary uncle - owner of a bakery - and told you many stories about the shop and watching him make cakes. Later, you may recall having him, and you might add fictional details to the episodes you remember from your mother's stories. For you, the imaginary uncle is as real as any of your real relatives. You assimilated the information to be your own recollection. Or you just imagined having a friend when your were young. You thought of many things you did with your friend. Later, you may recall these imaginary episodes as real. Visualization of events often leads to false recollections. Because the same brain regions are involved in both visual imagery and visual perception, you are susceptible to perceive visual images as real recollections. In any case, you've forgotten you've just imagined them. Your source is lost, so your ability to tell the imaginary from the real.

Your own recollection of the imaginary character in your childhood may add to your happiness and to the quality of your childhood. There will be no harm for you to believe they were real. However, source amnesia can be great obstacles in legal cases where it is absolutely essential to separate facts from imagined or falsely remembered. Children's are exceptionally susceptible to source amnesia. They are easily influenced by suggestive interrogations, and known to give false recollections easily. They are ready to tell the stories they just heard from adults as their own.

Also, taken to it's extreme, source amnesia leads to a loss of reality. What if you believe you were abducted and raped s a child? In reality, you saw a documentary about a child who was abducted and raped on TV? What if you believe you were adopted. In reality, you just wanted to escape from your family and wanted to have your real loving family somewhere else waiting and looking for you? Are you about to go into a search for a phantom (your imaginary) family you created in your mind?

Our minds are powerful enough to re-write our pasts. The truth, is beyond reach when you live in your self-serving make-believe fantasies. You hold the truth, however, you fabricated it for yourself.

Source(s): Daniel L. Schacter, "Searching for memory: the brain, the mind, and the past", (New York, 1996).


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