Your Memory Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does

We tend to think of our memories as pretty reliable things. We might joke about how forgetful we are, but when we do remember something we assume that it’s accurate.

I was 12 years old on September 11, 2001 and I vividly remember hearing about the terrorist attack. I was in our family minivan with my mother, sister, and little brother when the news came over the radio. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened, and was more worried that my mother was going to drive into another car on the crowded in-town roads because she was so upset. We continued on to the roller skating rink where we’d been heading, skated for a while, and then stopped when the announcement went out over the loudspeaker. Several people gathered together to pray, but we stayed off to one side praying just as a family. I felt scared, confused, and very alone.

That’s probably not what actually happened, though. Another thing I remember is starting a diary because I was sure that this was such a pivotal turning point in our nation’s history that decades from now some historian would care about what I wrote. I can’t find that diary anywhere, so I have no way to compare my memories now against what I recorded back then. But if I’m anything like other people, then only a little over 50% of these details I remember are accurate. Read more

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