We may experience normal forgetfulness in our daily lives, but there is a certain level that can only be a sin of the memory. A situation where our memories put us into trouble. The memory plays an essential purpose in our lives, but we tend to assume its significance until we are in an incident of forgetting or distortion that demands our attention. These are situations where the memory betrays us, abandons us and puts us in trouble. In his work, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, Daniel Schacter explores and breaks down seven ways in which the memory sins but goes on to insist that this is not a biological shortcoming but rather an indication of a properly functioning memory. Just like there are various forms of memory, there also exists different forms of forgetting. The seven sins identified by Schacter include transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence.
Transience refers to the tendency to gradually forget events or facts. This one sin of the memory can be associated with the inability to grasp new information. One cannot remember facts he has read, or once he reads something new, the previous facts he already knew are lost. Interference c is the main cause of transience and can be classified into two: retroactive interference where new information prevents one from being able to remember old information, and proactive interference where old information prevents one from being able to acquire new information. Transience is also the memory quality of use it or lose it. Psychologists have claimed that transience is significant to our brains because it clears unused and bulk memory creating a way for newer and more useful information.
Absent-mindedness occurs when our memory fails to encode something properly due to failure to pay close and proper attention when doing something. It also relates to our minds being preoccupied when we were doing something. The sin of absent-mindedness occurs when at the encoding stage, when memory is formed, and at the retrieval stage, when the memory is accessed (Murray, 2003). The best examples of the sin as illustrated by Schater are misplacing keys or eyeglasses. This sin can also be associated with forgetting to do things such honoring appointments or taking medicines.
Almost everybody has had the experience of recognizing someone but not being able to recall their names. This sin of the memory is called blocking, and it is the temporary inability to retrieve stored memory due to interference by another competing memory. Another scenario is when one is asked a question whose answer is at the tip of the tongue because they know it, but they are unable to think or remember it at that moment. This sin results in the tip of the tongue phenomenon, and it increases with age. For instance, young people can recall names quite easier than older people.
Misattribution occurs when we mistake an idealized version of the past for a real recollection. For instance, when you see a red car hit a passenger but later you hear or read a report claiming that a white car that caused hit a pedestrian causing an accident, you remember a white car instead of a red car. Therefore, in this case, something is remembered accurately but some details such as time, place or person involved is misattributed. This memory sin is also prone to older persons because, as the age increases, the memory reduces its ability to absorb all details. The sin of misattribution is similar to the sin of suggestibility where a suggestion by another persons influences us leading to giving false information. This memory sin is present in our criminal justice system leading to false convictions. This is when witnesses give information out of repressed memories years after the occurrence of the real event. Research has established that the human memory is prone to be swayed by suggestions (Dean, 2008).
Bias is experienced when our prior knowledge, beliefs, experiences and current mood distort the information encoded in our memories. The distortion can also occur during retrieval as dictated by our personal biases then. This can be evidenced when we claim we knew what would happen after we have been made aware of the outcome.
The sin of persistence occurs when people worry about forgetting some things or when they are persistently tormented by things they want to forget, but they just cant. The most common is the persistence of traumatic events, negative feelings or ongoing fears such as sexual abuses or wartime experiences leading to depression. The emotionally charged or arousing information is encoded better than other information. Despite the ability of the mind to suppress some information, persistence has proven that some memories are too strong to be consciously controlled.
The analysis and examination granted to the seven sins of memory by Schacter have made me realize that my memory is prone to the sin of persistence. I have experienced it through waking up in the middle of the night and reflecting on some painful experiences, blunders made over the week and some failures that could have been avoided. These memories always seem to resurface most of the times despite attempts to move on and forget them. Thus, I have been prone to persistence but I cannot dispute I am also vulnerable to other sins such as absent-mindedness. Finally, the memory is the most reliable guide to our past and future and hence we should take its inherent weakness and flaws as part of evolution it has undergone. Despite these, annoying failures and sins we should celebrate the strengths of our memories.
Dean Jeremy, (2008), The 7 Sins of Memory, PSYBLOG
Murray Bridget, (2003), The Sins of Memory, American Psychological Association
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