Your memory rewrites the past and edits it with new experiences, study finds

Memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world

Our memory is a poor way of recording events, a study has found, as it rewrites the past with current information, updating recollections with new experiences.

In the study, How your Memory Rewrites the Past, researchers looked at the exact point in time when incorrectly recalled information was implanted into an existing memory.

The team found that memory rewrites the past with current information, updating recollections with new experiences. This form of editing happens in the hippocampus, working as the memory’s version of a film editor or special effects team.

It does this to help us survive and adapt within constantly changing environments, and to encourage us to focus on things that are important in the present.

Their results raise questions over the reliability of eyewitness court testimony, the team concluded. 

In the study, researchers at Northwestern University, in Chicago, asked 17 male and female participants to study 168 object locations on a computer screen with different backgrounds, such as an underwater ocean scene or an aerial view of farmland.

Memory editing happens in the hippocampus, updating recollections with fragments from current experiences Participants were then asked to place the object in the original location but on a new background screen. In each attempt, the researchers noted they would always place it in an incorrect location.

They were then shown the same object but in three locations on the original screen and asked to choose the correct location from three options: the place they originally saw the object, the location they chose to place it in or a brand new location.

Participants always put the object it in the location they choose during the second part of their task, suggesting their memory had changed to reflect the location they recalled on the new background screen, lead author Donna Jo Bridge at Northwestern University explained.

"This shows their original memory of the location has changed to reflect the location they recalled on the new background screen,” she said. "Their memory has updated the information by inserting the new information into the old memory.”

"Our memory is not like a video camera," Ms Bridge added. "Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It's built to be current.”

The study also has implications for the way we recall key events in our lives – such as the ‘love at first sight’ moment.

"When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria," Ms Bridge said.

"But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person."

The study is published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television The BBC have commissioned a series of programmes doing away with high-production values, commentary, script or drama
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable