Imagination and Memory

Our memories are not stored or retrieved as exact copies of our experiences. We construct memories by using what has already been stored along with new information. If we are exposed, even subtly, to misinformation after an event, or if we repeatedly imagine or rehearse an event that never happened, we may incorporate the incorrect or misleading details into the memory of what actually happened.

Memory is best understood as being influenced by three factors: psychological, biological and social-cultural conditions. 

1. Psychological Influence

Psychological factors include our mood at the time of the memory, and how stressful or excited we were during the event, the scene or context of the event. Like how near or far away were you, whether we rehearsed or studied in order to remember it later. Sometimes things just aren’t stored properly. For example, where you left your keys or phone or when we say something is right on the tip of our tongue but we just can’t remember it – mainly because we didn’t take the extra few seconds to remember properly (with effort).

2. Biological Factors

Biological factors also include our stress level at the time, the long-term potential of the memory, the condition and age of our brain circuitry, whether or not automatic processing or effort is used, and if any head injury has taken place that might have damaged memory storage.

3. Social-Cultural Conditions

Social and cultural conditions might include the misinformation effect, as in someone telling you something not quite accurate but, because you trust the person, you take the information as fact. Or something so important happens that you remember every detail. This is called the “flashbulb” effect, or source amnesia, which is remembering someone or an event but not how or why we remember it, remembering a face but not knowing how or why you first saw the person.

True and False Memories Feel Similar

Imaginary and false memories feel like true memories, and are equally durable. Nothing about the sincerity or longevity of a memory identifies it as real. True memories might however contain more details than imagined or false memories which may trigger a “feeling” or uncertainty about it.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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