A new study from Northwestern University has found that memory is not an accurate recollection of events as they happened, and instead adapts itself to best serve the present moment.
“Our memory is not like a video camera,” says Donna Jo Bridge, the study’s lead author. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.”
One of the things this means is that your memory of love at first sight is an exaggeration.
“When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria,” says Bridge. “But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person.”
The study had 17 men and women look at an image on a screen in front of a background, and then replace that image from memory on a different background. All participants put the object in the wrong place. After that, participants were shown the original background and told to select the correct location of the image from three different places: the actual location, their chosen location from the second part of the study, and a third location. Participants always chose the their invented location.
“This shows their original memory of the location has changed to reflect the location they recalled on the new background screen.” says Bridge. “Their memory has updated the information by inserting the new information into the old memory.”
The full study can be seen in the February 5 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.