Can you trust your memory? Take these two simple tests.

August 5, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

(Credit: stock image)

WAIT! Before you read further (and I totally contaminate your mind), I suggest you take these two simple short tests:

1. Selective Attention Test

2. Test yourself — What do you believe about memory?

OK, what did you (not) see in the video (more info here)? How did you compare to survey respondents?

This surprising (and disturbing) research at the University of Illinois revealed that many people in the U.S. (in some cases, a substantial majority) think that memory is more powerful, objective, and reliable than what decades of scientific research has demonstrated.

The telephone survey asked 1,500 respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about memory. Nearly two-thirds of respondents likened human memory to a video camera that records information precisely for later review. Almost half believed that once experiences are encoded in memory, those memories do not change. Nearly 40 percent felt that the testimony of a single confident eyewitness should be enough evidence to convict someone of a crime.

These and other beliefs about memory diverge from the views of cognitive psychologists with many years of experience studying how memory works. Studies have shown, for example, that confident eyewitnesses are accurate more often than eyewitnesses who lack confidence. Even confident witnesses are wrong about 30 percent of the time, the researchers said.

So what does this mean for court trials? Politics? The accuracy of history? Of everything? Who and what can you trust? Ideas?

Ref.: Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris, What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population, PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (8): e22757 [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022757]