Posted by | October 22, 2011 12:28 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

We all trust our memories.  We all have particular ones that seem irrefutable to us.  But are they?  Recent research has shown how malleable our memories are.  Jonah Lehrer explains:

This research helps explain why a shared narrative can often lead to totally unreliable individual memories. We are so eager to conform to the collective, to fit our little lives into the arc of history, that we end up misleading ourselves. Consider an investigation of flashbulb memories from September 11, 2001. A few days after the tragic attacks, a team of psychologists led by William Hirst and Elizabeth Phelps began interviewing people about their personal experiences. In the years since, the researchers have tracked the steady decay of these personal stories. They’ve shown, for instance, that subjects have dramatically changed their recollection of how they first learned about the attacks. After one year, 37 percent of the details in their original story had changed. By 2004, that number was approaching 50 percent.

Political consultants have realized this for a while.  It’s why you hear false things repeated over and over (it’s why so many Republicans credited France for Qaddafi’s downfall and didn’t worry that you’d remember how much they hated France and intervention in Libya).  If you hear the same thing over and over again, particularly from friends or people you trust, it becomes something you treat as fact.  This is true even if everyone telling you this is getting it from the same source.  That’s why you should keep visiting alan.com where at least the commenters bring diverse narratives to the table!

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.