Memory is an interesting and complex thing. I recently attended a day long seminar on the subject and it didn’t even scratch the surface of the topic. One of the topics presented had to do with “false” memories. This peaked my interest. Everyone has likely had experience with this in one way or another. It is not that the person, be it you or someone else, is lying or in any way trying to be deceptive or manipulative in incorrectly recalling an event or conversation, it is just something that happens in the brain sometimes.

False memories are a bit of a mystery and the further away from an event you get, the more likely you are to experience a false memory. Your brain starts filling in the details. The memory can be impacted by perception, feelings, suggestion, how one “thought” or wanted the conversation or event to go and any number of other factors. Very public figures have been caught in situations when they have experienced faulty memory. When presented with concrete evidence (such as video of the event) they cannot explain other than to acknowledge that their memory of the event had been incorrect and that they are simply human like everyone else.

False memories usually do not cause any problems. They are either corrected after a little research (looking back at notes; viewing video or looking at photos; or discussing with someone else who was there or shared the experience) or they live harmlessly on.

False memories become destructive when they damage others or relationships. A classic case is that of a woman who was attacked and identified her attacker as a prominent doctor. This doctor had an airtight alibi in that he was on live television at the time of her attack. Even presented with this evidence, she was sure he was her attacker. In actuality, the television was on when she was attacked and she saw him on the television during her attack. Her brain folded the doctor into her memory making him the attacker. He was arrested. but not charged with the crime, but this could have been a very negative situation for him had the circumstances been different and he didn’t have a solid alibi. What if she was reading an article in the newspaper and looking at his picture when she was attacked instead?Would the same memory have resulted?

False memories can also be shared. The Salem witch trials may be an example of this. I believe that many other examples of shared false memories exist not only in history but in personal lives. An example may be a recollection of something by a couple of people in a group of something said or done in the past with others in the group having a different recollection of the same event or topic. I think most everyone has experienced that type of situation. This is usually not an issue and can lead to fun or spirited discussions. It is not fun if it creates tension with no way to verify what was truly said or done.

Keep your memories close at hand and treasure your memories. Be grateful that you have them and are able to recall them. In addition, be cautious with them. Let your memories inform your decision when needed, but not to the extent that they create rifts in relationships or damage the present or the future. It would be a shame to let a memory, or perhaps a false memory, distract you from living life now and moving forward. Just something to think about and “remember” I guess.