- The Seven Sins of Memory
"The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers" is a book (ISBN 0-618-21919-6) by
Daniel Schacter, former chair of Harvard University's PsychologyDepartment and a leading memoryresearcher.
The book revolves around the theory that "the seven sins of memory" are similar to the
Seven deadly sins, and that if you try to avoid committing these sins, it will help to improve your ability to remember. He argues that these features of human memory are not necessarily bad, and that they actually serve a useful purpose in memory. For instance, persistenceis one of the sins of memory that can lead to things like post traumatic stress syndrome. However persistence is also necessary for long-term memory, and so it is very necessary.
Schacter asserts that "memory's malfunctions can be divided into seven fundamental transgressions or 'sins,'". [D. Schacter. "The Seven Sins of Memory", Houghton Mifflin, 2001. p.4] These are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. The first three are described as sins of omission, since the result is a failure to recall an idea, fact, or event. The other four sins (misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence) are sins of commission, meaning that there is a form of memory present, but it is not of the desired fidelity or the desired fact, event, or idea.
Types of Memory Failure
Transience refers to the general deterioration of a specific memory over time. Much more can be remembered of recent events than those farther in one's past.
This form of memory breakdown involves problems at the point where attention and memory interface. Common errors of this type include misplacing keys, eyeglasses, or forgetting appointments because at the time of encoding sufficient attention was not paid on what would later need to be recalled.
Blocking occurs when a memory that has been sufficiently encoded and has not faded (as in "transience), but rather simply eludes one for the time being, often with retrieval occurring later on, when it is of less importance. A good example of this memory failure is trying to recall a name or word that is "on the tip of the tongue".
Misattribution is the first of the sins of commission which are discussed in the book. It entails correct recollection of information with incorrect recollection of the source of that information. This error has profound consequences in legal systems because of its' unacknowledged prevalence and the confidence which is often placed in the person's ability to know the source of information important to suspect identification.
Suggestibility has much in common with misattribution. Memories of the past are often influenced by the manner in which they are recalled, and when subtle emphasis is placed on certain aspects which might seem likely to a specific type of memory those emphasized aspects are sometimes incorporated into the recollection, whether or not they actually occurred.
The sin of bias is similar to the sin of suggestibility in that one's current feelings and worldview distort remembrance of past events. This can pertain to specific incidences and the general conception one has of a certain period in one's life. This occurs partly because memories encoded while a person was feeling a certain level of arousal and a certain type of emotion come to mind more quickly when a person is in a similar mood. Thus, a contented adult might look back with fondness on their childhood, induced to do so by positive memories from that time which might not actually be representative of their average mood during their childhood.
This failure of the memory system involves the unwanted recall of information that is disturbing. The remembrance can range from a blunder on the job to a truly traumatic experience, and the persistent recall can lead to suicide in especially disturbing and intrusive instances.
* [http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct03/sins.html Description of the book at the APA website]
* [http://develintel.blogspot.com/2006/05/origins-of-memory-distortion.html The Origins of Memory Distortion: The Seven Sins Reconsidered]
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