Numerous people in the U.S. – in some cases a significant majority, believe memory is more powerful, objective and reliable than it actually is, a new survey revealed. Their beliefs contradict decades of scientific investigation. The outcome of the survey and a comparison to the opinion of expert’s were published in the journal PloS ONE.

University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Simons, who conducted the study with Union College psychology professor Christopher Chabris explained:

“This is the first large-scale, nationally representative survey of the U.S. population to measure intuitive beliefs about how memory works.”

While doing research for their book, “The Invisible Gorilla,” Simons and Chabris conducted a survey which investigates general beliefs (often incorrect) about memory and perception.

Simons explained:

“Our book highlights ways in which our intuitions about the mind are mistaken, And one of the most compelling examples comes from beliefs about memory: People tend to place greater faith in the accuracy, completeness and vividness of their memories than they probably should.”

SurveyUSA, an opinion research company, lead a telephone survey asking 1,500 people if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about memory.

Almost two-thirds associated human memory to a video camera that records information precisely for later evaluation. Nearly half believed memories do not change once the experiences are embedded in memory, and roughly 40% suggested that the testimony of a single confident eyewitness would be adequate evidence to convict someone of a crime.

These among other beliefs about memory vary from the views of cognitive psychologists who have numerous years of experience studying how memory works, the investigators report.

Although reports have exposed, for example, that confident eyewitnesses in comparison to those lacking confidence are more accurate, Chabris said:

“..even confident witnesses are wrong
about 30 percent of the time.”

According to Simons, multiple studies have shown the ways in which memory can be unreliable and even manipulated. Explaining that:

“We’ve known since the 1930s that memories can become distorted in systematic ways, We’ve known since the 1980s that even memory for vivid, very meaningful personal events can change over time.

For example, (Cornell University psychology professor) Ulric Neisser showed that personal memories for the Challenger space shuttle explosion changed over time, and (University of California professor) Elizabeth Loftus and colleagues have managed to introduce entirely false memories that people believe and trust as if they had really happened.”

Chabris wrote:

“The fallibility of memory is well established in the scientific literature, but mistaken intuitions about memory persist, The extent of these misbeliefs helps explain why so many people assume that politicians who may simply be remembering things wrong must be deliberately lying.”

The researchers explained that these new discoveries also have crucial implications for proceedings in legal cases.

Simons wrote:

“Our memories can change even if we don’t realize they have changed, That means that if a defendant can’t remember something, a jury might assume they are lying. And misremembering one detail can impugn their credibility for other testimony, when it might just reflect the normal fallibility of memory.”

Simons is an affiliate of the Beckman Institute at Illinois.

Written by Grace Rattue