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ARE MEMORIES FACTS?

So the ideas that we have about ourselves are often based on our memory. However, memories are not always an accurate record of events. Several people who witness the same event are likely to give different accounts of what they think happened . Often we can’t be sure whether we can remember an actual event itself or the way that this event has been told and retold.

Our recall of the past is never perfect , partly because what we remember is based on what we understand was happening at the time. This is particularly true of events in early childhood , when our memories were stored with the limited understanding that we had of the world then.

Furthermore, as we learned in the previous articles, the mood we are in also influences the way that we see things . If we are depressed , then we interpret a situation very negatively , and it is the negative interpretation of events that we will remember. So our memories are always partly a reconstruction of the past rather than being a completely accurate record of events.

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For example , Jill was involved in an unavoidable car crash. When the car came to rest she felt that this accident was a punishment from God, because she was a bad person. She believed this very strongly, despite the fact that the police had assured her that she was completely blameless . Her memory of the crash had been coloured by messages she had received about herself as a child , from her mentally ill mother who had been very critical of her.

Another reason why memory recall is never a straightforward process is that our current mood state influences what we remember and the meaning that we give to these memories. When we are depressed we find it much easier to recall unhappy memories than happy ones. In one famous psychology experiment a group of patients suffering from severe depression were interviewed twice- once in the morning when they were feeling at their most depressed and once in the evening when they were feeling less depressed . When they were interviewed in the morning the people in the experiment recalled many more negative experiences than they did later on in the day . Not only that, but they rated the memories as being more upsetting . This is a process called mood -congruent memory which simply means that we find it easier to recall memories that fit with our current mood state . So when you are in a depressed mood you are more likely to remember negative times from the past , and more likely to remember those times as being worse than they might really have been.

This also means that we don’t remember good times if they are not consistent with our mood now.

For example, you may believe that you are worthless because you can’t ever remember being treated with kindness.There may in fact have been some times when other people ( a grandparent perhaps, or a kindly teacher) did something to help or nurture you, but the strength of your negative mood makes it almost impossible for you to remember these times.

As Albert Einstein once said, ‘ Memory is deceptive because it is coloured by today’s events.’

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