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Memories are "Written" Every Time we Remember Them

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posted on May, 23 2013 @ 12:35 PM

When Memories are Remembered, They Can Be Rewritten

Source (National Geographic)

**thread title is the tweet, OP headline is the actual article**

Some of us probably already knew this, but this is certainly fascinating and has so many implications both positive and negative.

For one, it shows how eye-witness testimony can be severely impacted and unreliable. Also, what are the implications with polygraph tests? When something is implanted, imprinted in the mind as a memory, even if false, it suddenly becomes real. As George Costanza says, "It's not a lie if you believe it." This suggests that it become the truth because our mind believes it to be true.

I can attest: I know that I sometimes have doubts about things I recall, even though I know they're true/not true. I know I didn't do X but I feel like i did X. It's creepy at times. How long, during subsequent re-memberings, does it take to hold as a new memory?

Every time we bring back an old memory, we run the risk of changing it. It’s more like opening a document on a computer – the old information enters a surprisingly vulnerable state when it can be edited, overwritten, or even deleted. It takes a while for the memory to become strengthened anew, through a process called reconsolidation. Memories aren’t just written once, but every time we remember them.

The article given an example of having test subjects watch the pilot episode of 24. Chan and LaPaglia of Iowa State

fed their volunteers with false information immediately after they had actively remembered what they had seen. Then, and only then, did the new memories overwrite their old ones.


Twenty minutes later [after watching the pilot and either taking a quiz or playing Tetris], they listened to a short audio recording that supposedly recapped the episode, but that secretly changed some details—for example, swapping Mandy’s syringe for a stun gun. Five minutes later, everyone took a final true-or-false test about what they had originally seen.

taking the quiz destabilised the volunteers’ memories of what they were quizzed on, paving the way for the false recap to mess with their knowledge. This worked even when volunteers correctly remembered what happened in the episode during the first quiz—the incorrect audio still changed what they thought they knew.

Chan and LaPaglia have now used the reconsolidation window to change declarative memories—facts and knowledge that we consciously recall.

Now, how long before this is used for sinister means? For some of the more conspiracy-minded folks, who needs MKUltra when you can take a completely innocent person and insert/change/rewrite a new memory of an event, such as a party to an assassination? In what ways will the military experiment with this (which they probably already have)?

A positive outcome of this, however, concerns very negative memories, such as those experiences and memories involved with PTSD. IF these new memories can be re-written of sorts to lessen the negative impact, this *could* be a positive thing—to a degree. To what degree, though?

Also reminds me of Total Recall (Schwarzenegger NOT Farrell!

Our memories are one thing that makes us human. Having had discussions in the past about changing memories—even for tragedies—the ethical implications are staggering.

edit on 23-5-2013 by Liquesence because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 23 2013 @ 12:45 PM
Wow, fascinating article.

I dare say this is not news to certain folks, and is already being utilized in different situations. Makes me wonder about some of the police confessions....where they "interview" a subject for sixteen hours and then get a confession.

As for erasing bad memories, I think I'll keep mine. I know, it sounds weird, because my PTSD is rough. But what happened to me, happened...and its shaped who I am today. Would I be as strong a person if I hadn't gone through that experience? If I "rewrote" that memory....would it change me this late in the game?

S&F for a great read and thought provoking thread!

posted on May, 23 2013 @ 12:58 PM
reply to post by smyleegrl

Thank you.

I agree with you, too. The thing about police interrogations, to me, is that oftentimes these take place so immediately after what happened that the memories haven't really had time to "solidify" in the mind. These 16-hour interrogations, then, certainly impact what is retained, especially since the police like to "suggest" so many things. Constant rewriting because of suggestion and confusion. And as you mentioned, this "confession" is coming to believe one has done something when one has not, as I mentioned personally in the op.

Very troubling.

I would not trade my horrible memories either, because truly they make me who I am. Had I not that or those, who am I? We become who we are because of our experiences, and remembering those defines us.

Would it change a person so late in the game? I imagine it certainly would. If due to experience we learn to do or not do something, and the memory of that was gone, we might re-do some of the same (bad) things that caused us to learn and avoid them.

edit on 23-5-2013 by Liquesence because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 23 2013 @ 01:01 PM

Originally posted by Liquesence
Now, how long before this is used for sinister means? For some of the more conspiracy-minded folks, who needs MKUltra when you can take a completely innocent person and insert/change/rewrite a new memory of an event, such as a party to an assassination?

Oh yes, memories are notoriously unreliable. And it doesnt matter how sure a witness is either.
"I know what I saw" is a meaningless statement.

But the saving grace of this research is that after the "reconsolidation window", it seems harder to change memories. They used 48 hours, at which point memories seem to be more stable.

I suppose this means that if you're studying for an exam, once you close the books at the end of a study session, DO NOT think about the material you've just gone through... because you might accidentally overwrite good knowledge with mistakes.

Note to MKUltra operatives out there: You have to get to your witness as soon as possible.

posted on May, 24 2013 @ 07:09 PM
reply to post by alfa1

Yes, time does help imprint the data more strongly, but over time, as the study suggests, the constant rewriting (with data that incrementally is not 100% accurate, can still taint the memory; and is also akin to an analogue tape, the data that corrupts with each copy or re-write). But yes, it is a lot easier to corrupt newer memories versus older. Once the neurological pathways are found, however....

And yes, I can attest to the exam studying example, too. This is why repetition (not necessarily memorization) is essential: it ensures that the same data is copied over and over, which increase the potential for permanence.

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