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How Memory Bias Affects Your Memories

Mental Models Apr 27, 2022

How many times have you been told a story and thought, "I don't remember that happening?" It's natural for a person to forget things over time. But what if your memories are being distorted? You may be suffering from memory bias. In this post, we will explore how memory biases can affect your memories and why it's important to be aware of them.

What is Memory Bias?

Memory bias is a cognitive bias that either impairs or improves memory recall by changing the content of what we remember. Memory distortions demonstrate that memories are not stored as exact replicas of reality.

The human brain is a powerful organ. It can allow you to recall memories from years ago with ease, and it can also help you forget things that might be painful or inconvenient. Memory bias is one of how your mind may change your memories, and it's something that we all experience regularly.

"Man can choose an action that will determine the level of risk he will be taking and also determines his potential for success." - Brian Tracy

Memory bias has many different faces.

Memory bias is technically a collection of dozens of cognitive biases. Some types of memory bias are beneficial, such as protecting us from painful memories, while others are harmful, such as when we make decisions based on the most recent information rather than the most relevant information.

Rosy retrospection bias. We tend to remember the past as being better than it was, resulting in us judging the past more favorably than the present. Memoria praeteritorum bonorum, or "the past is always well remembered," as the Romans put it.

Consistency bias. We mistakenly associate our past attitudes and behaviors with our current attitudes and behaviors, so we feel compelled to act in accordance with our overall self-image.

Mood-congruent memory bias. Memories that are in sync with our current mood are easier to recall. Feeling relaxed, for example, may bring back relaxing memories; feeling stressed, on the other hand, may bring back stressful memories.

Hindsight bias. We tend to think of past events as predictable, which is known as the knew-it-all-along bias.

Egocentric bias. We remember the past in self-serving ways, such as remembering our exam grades as being higher than they were, or remembering a caught fish as being larger than it was.

Availability bias. We frequently believe that memories that come to mind quickly are more representative than they are. This is why people often exaggerate the chances of shark attacks or the number of lottery winners.

Recency effect. We remember the most recent information the best. Evidence presented last in a trial may be the most vivid in a juror's mind.

Choice-supportive bias. We recall that the options we chose were preferable to those we rejected.

Fading affects bias. Our emotions connected to unpleasant memories fade faster than our emotions connected to pleasant memories.

Confirmation bias. Our proclivity to seek out and interpret memories that support our pre-existing hypotheses or personal beliefs.

These are just a few of the many memory biases that exist in the human mind. Why is it that our memory is so poor? And… Is it as bad as it seems?

How does this happen?

The mind is a complex organ that can be influenced by many factors. The words we use to describe an event, as well as our emotions, can all have an impact on how well we remember it. In some ways, this isn't "forgetting" at all; it's simply a case of your memory being altered by current events.

Everyone has biases that can affect how they see themselves or others. Because you have a positive association with someone, you may remember them as being nicer than they were, but if that relationship changes, your biased memory may make you think they were meaner.

Memory bias can be caused by something as harmless as a preference for food or music. To put it another way, if your mind decides to focus on specific details from an event that relates to your preferences, it may distort or alter the memory.

We'll never have perfect memories of our lives, and we'll never know if someone else does. Memory bias can affect how people see themselves and others, but there are ways to be aware of your own biases.

Our brains become less able to create new memories as we age, but this is normal. Memory bias prevents people from creating a clear and accurate memory of their lives.

If you're having trouble recalling an event, try recalling what was going through your mind at the time. This may help you recall if you have a memory bias for the event.

Our faulty memory's benefits

Adaptive memory processes and functions serve us well in many ways, according to psychologist Daniel Schacter in his book The Seven Sins of Memory.

β€œConsider this experiment,” he says. Try to recall a table-related event from your life. What do you recall, and how long did it take you to recall it? You probably remembered an incident from last night's dinner or this morning's conference table. Imagine the cue table bringing back all your table-related memories. There are probably hundreds or thousands. What if they all came to mind instantly? This type of system would likely result in mass confusion due to the constant recall of competing traces. It's like using an Internet search engine, typing in a word that matches thousands of entries in a global database, and sorting through the results. We don't want a memory system that overflows."

While memory limitations can be frustrating, they are necessary trade-offs that allow us to function and survive in the world. Information that is recent, frequently used, and likely to be useful is remembered first, even if the definition of β€œuseful” is subjective.

Defective memories may also help us cope with the past and navigate the future. When we can't change our past choices, the choice-supportive bias may boost our confidence in them. When remembering a lost one, happy memories may be more helpful than sad ones. β€œOur memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives life to those who have died,” says Guy de Maupassant.

Conclusion

Remembering events is important, but being aware of your biases can help you better understand yourself and others. Memory bias is one of many ways our mind can alter our memories. Memory bias can impact how people see themselves and others in subtle ways. When someone suffers from dementia or another type of brain disease, they may become less able to recall their past experiences accurately because memory bias is preventing them from creating a clear and accurate memory of their life. Our memory's limitations are necessary trade-offs that allow us to function and survive in the world. People need to remember events, but being aware of your biases can help you understand yourself better as well as others.

Further Reading

The Happiness Hypothesis

Influence, New and Expanded

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

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