This is moderately diverting, but the research didn’t really need doing. According to a study reported in the Journal of the National Academy of Science, memories of events and things can be radically altered by what happens later. Even memories of radical events, such as where people were when the Twin Towers were attacked, are subject to retrospective alteration.

The research methodology was pretty robust. It involved subjects sorting objects into a couple of simple categories. Then they had to repeat the exercise while being exposed to electric shocks associated with specific objects. Not unsurprisingly, the shocks altered the memories of the previous sorting exercise.

One of the researchers drew the following analogy. You have a new work colleague you rather fancy, but don’t have the nerve to ask out. You have a week of mundane conversations, then out of the blue said colleague asks you out. Immediately your memories of the rather dull conversations you have had get re-assigned as ‘important.’

As Basil Fawlty once put it, ‘Specialist subject? The bleeding obvious.’ If you’ve ever fallen in love you’ll recognise the truth of this analogy, and you didn’t even need a research grant and didn’t need to write about it in a learned journal. It’s pretty much a universal experience, and forms the basis of just about every case of stalking you’ve ever read about.

Another bit of the research found that even when confronted with incontrovertible evidence that their memories are flawed, people flat out deny it and insist their recollections are the true version of what happened. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had a conversation in a pub, especially when the beer’s been flowing.

Advertisements