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Your memory is like the telephone game
Date:9/19/2012

CHICAGO --- Remember the telephone game where people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the next person in line? By the time the last person speaks it out loud, the message has radically changed. It's been altered with each retelling.

Turns out your memory is a lot like the telephone game, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time. The Northwestern study is the first to show this.

"A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event -- it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it," said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. "Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval."

Bridge did the research while she was a doctoral student in lab of Ken Paller, a professor of psychology at Northwestern in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The findings have implications for witnesses giving testimony in criminal trials, Bridge noted.

"Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren't that distorted," she said. "After that it keeps going downhill."

The published study reports on Bridge's work with 12 participants, but she has run several variations of the study with a total of 70 people. "Every single person has shown this effect," she said. "It's really huge."

"When someone tells me they are sure they remember exactly the way something happened, I just laugh," Bridge said.

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Contact: Marla Paul
Marla-Paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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