How Might the Memory be Inaccurate?

HowMight the Memory be Inaccurate?

Researchersbelieve that the hippocampus region of the brain is responsible formemory storage. Also, various studies shows that our memories are notperfect all the time because they might fail due to people’sinability to retrieve stored information accurately and people’sinadequacy in storage and encoding. Memories can also be affected byour cognitive processes, the setting in which they occurred, andevent experiences. Cognition is very important as it helps us to,organize, attend, and rehearse information. However, cognition mightcause errors and distortions in people’s behaviors and how theymake judgments. The aim of this assignment is to discuss variousfactors that might lead to memory inaccuracies and distortionincluding cognitive processes.

Today,many studies have revealed that various types of memory distortionsreflect adaptive cognitive processes that contribute to the efficientfunctioning of memory, but produce distortions as a consequence ofdoing so (Schacter, Guerin, and Jacques, 2011). These memorydistortions include associative and gist based memory, post eventmisinformation, and imagination inflammation. Memory errors based ongist happen when an individual recalls an event falsely because thatevent is conceptually or perceptually related to an even he or shehad encountered previously, which means some specific details of theevent are not recollected and instead what people recollect is thegeneral information of the event that occurred. Post eventmisinformation occurs during the initial encoding of information.Studies conducted recently on functional neuroimaging ofmisinformation show that not only do same regions of the brainsupport true memories encoding, but also they support incorporationand encoding of information that is incorrect. Therefore, such asituation leads to false memories (Schacter et al., 2011).

Byhaving an understanding of errors and inaccuracies in our memories,we can develop ability to improve in how we make decisions and beable to avoid such inaccuracies. There are various cognitive biasesthat influence human memories such as counterfactual thinking,cognitive accessibility, availability heuristic, representativenessheuristic, salience, overconfidence, misinformation effect,functional fixedness, confirmation bias, and source monitoring.


Thiscognitive bias occurs when people tend to experience and think aboutevents based on what might have been (Phelps and Sharot, 2008).Memories might become inaccurate when people engage in counterfactualthinking. When people replay certain experiences, their emotionsmight be affected positively or negatively. For example, imaginingthat an event might have a worse outcome than what happened, thetendency of us being satisfied and happy becomes high. On the otherhand, imagining that an event was better than what happened mightlead to disappointment and sadness experiences. Therefore, these twoprocesses of imagination affect how accurate memories are retrieved(Phelps et al., 2008).

Salienceand cognitive Accessibility

Memorymight be inaccurate because people tend to attend, remember, and usesome information more than other information (Schacteret al., 2011).People are more likely to remember things that attract theirattention, which means those things, are salient. Things that aremore salient are colorful, unexpected, moving, unique, and bright andthey can distort our memories. In nineteen eighty seven, Messo andLoftus conducted a study on salience and cognitive accessibilitywhere people were shown a customer walking into a bank. On arrival tothe bank teller, the customer pulls out either a checkbook or apistol. The participant’s eye movements were tracked by theresearchers. The eye movements could show that most of them looked atthe gun more than they looked at the checkbook. The participants werelater asked whether they could identify the face of the criminalinvolved in a lineup and most of them could not. The researchers cameup with a conclusion that people could not identify the criminalbecause their attention was drawn away from the criminal’s face bythe gun’s salience. Therefore, our memories are heavily influencedby the salience of the stimuli in our social worlds (Schacteret al., 2011).For example, it is easy to remember an event due to our owncontribution to it, therefore have a feeling that we made asignificant impact on that event, while it is not the case.


Memoriesmight become inaccurate if our judgments are influenced by the easewith which they can be recollected from our memories. It is easy toremember words that begin with letter w than those that have letter was the second letter. Therefore, things that can be remembered easilyare the ones that an individual sees as more common than others. Forexample, people might do an overestimation on their area’s crimestatistics just because they can easily remember these crimes.


Retrievalof information might be inaccurate due to how it was processed. Useof heuristics in information processing is very important but it canlead to inaccuracies if it is not applied well. People tend toremember information that match and represent what they expect orexpected.


Memoriesmight be distorted if people become more certain that their judgmentsand memories are highly accurate. The certainty of one’s ability torecall events as accurate is mostly influenced by the emotionattached to it. Memories of such events make people to be certainthus, they become overconfident (Wright and Villalba, 2012). Forexample, an eyewitness might be very certain that he or she hasidentified a criminal suspect accurately, even though his or hermemories might be inaccurate.

Studiesconducted on how memory is influenced by emotions concentrate on theinteraction between hippocampus and amygdale. According to Phelps etal., (2008), amygdale is a structure of the brain that has the shapeof an almond and it is responsible for processing information that isemotional. On the other hand, hippocampus is adjacent to the amygdaleand it is responsible for retention, episodic memory formation, andretrieval. Therefore, when an individual narrows his or her attentionaround the emotional aspects of an event, other details of that eventare impaired, which means that information encoded and stored in thebrain is inaccurate.


Anothercognitive bias that might lead to memory inaccuracy depends on theinfluence of incorrect information on accurate memories that exist atthat time. Memory of an event can be distorted by information that isreceived later. Our memories might be influenced by occurrences thathappen after we have learned the information (Schacteret al., 2011).Therefore, the original memory that an individual has can bedistorted by any related new information received to a point of himor her becoming not able to differentiate between the real and newinformation. Retrieval of such an event becomes inaccurate. Moreover,misinformation might lead to individuals remembering information oran event that never existed. Studies on the influence ofmisinformation on children’s memories revealed that people rememberthings that did not occur due to misinformation, this is after theresearchers asked the parents to give an account of events thathappened and did not happen to their children. Children were latertold to imagine about the two events without being told which eventswere made-up or real. Most children generated stories about theevents that did not happen to them and were very sure that they didoccur even after the researchers informed them that those events didnot occur.


Theschemas that people hold might influence memories of new information.The reason as to why schemas affect how new information is used lieson the powerfulness of the already existing memories that make us toform a bias about the new information. Therefore, how information isencoded, stored, and retrieved can be influenced by people’sfixation of certain events or experiences, leading to inaccuratememory (Schacteret al., 2011).


Accordingto Wright et al., (2012), people discuss the details of an eventafter they experience it, which means that if they were to reportthat event later, the discussion they had might affect each person’snarration of that event. Various studies conducted reveals thatdifferent cognitive and social processes can make people report whatothers said than what they actually saw themselves. Therefore, insuch a situation what other people say affects a person’s responseto his or her memory question.


Wrightet al., (2012) suggest that people are likely to confirm and verifytheir existing memories by use of already established beliefs whichare difficult to change and are self perpetuated.


Memoriescan be distorted by inability of a person to identify their source.Uncertainties about whether an event was real or dreamed about leadsto memory inaccuracies.

Insummary, our memories are not always perfect due to severaldistortions related to cognitive processes such as associative andgist based memory, post event misinformation, and imaginationinflammation. Other cognitive biases that influence encoding, storingand retrieval of information have been discussed.


Phelps,E., &amp Sharot, T. (2008). How (and Why) Emotion Enhances TheSubjective Sense Of Recollection. CurrentDirections in Psychological Science,17(2), 147-152. Retrieved from

Schacter,D. L., Guerin,S.A.,&ampJacques, P. L. (2011). Memorydistortion: an adaptive perspective.Trendsin Cognitive Sciences,15(10), 467-474. Doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.08.004. Epub 2011 Sep 9

Wright,D., &amp Villalba, D. (2012). Memory conformity affects inaccuratememories more than accurate memories. Memory,20(3),254-265. Retrieved from DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2012.654798