Why you cannot trust your memory w/Elizabeth Loftus
Nexum bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.
Hosted by Morten Kamp Andersen
Nexum bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.
Hosted by Morten Kamp Andersen
Our memory is a construction and is relatively easy to influence. For example, you probably think that you know exactly where you where and what you were doing on 9/11. But chances are, that parts of the memory are not entirely true. The good news is, that you can improve the quality and accuracy of your memory.
Elizabeth Loftus is the world's leading expert on memory and is known for her work on the nature of false memories. She found that it is possible to plant entire false events into the minds of ordinary people and have them remember it like any other memory. Her studies on false memory made her the most influential female psychological researcher of the 20thcentury. In this episode of What Monkeys Do, we talk about memory and how it is possible to improve the accuracy of your memory.
If you are too busy, don't worry. As always, I have collected the three most important takeaways from my conversation with Elizabeth.
However, Elizabeth has conducted years of studies that cannot be summed up in only three points. Listen to the full episode to hear about some of her fascinating experiments and findings.
#1 We cannot trust our memory. Our memory is simply not a true representation of what happened. Not even when we are strongly convinced that we know what happened. Like where you were on 9/11. It is possible to plant false memories in people.
#2 Our biases influence our memories. In What Monkeys Do, we talk a lot about biases. How they affect our decision making. How they affect the way, we look at the world. Elizabeth reminded us that our biases also influence our memories. We simply remember an event differently depending on our individual biases.
#3 We can train our memory. We tend to better remember things we find interesting. That's because we pay more attention to those things. Actually, we can train our memory to become more accurate just by paying more attention. So, if you are struggling to remember names, you should try to pay more attention, when they tell you. Moreover, you can rehearse the new information in a certain pattern to improve your chances even more. Listen to the episode to find out how exactly.
Your opinion means a lot. Remember to leave a review or a comment, if you liked what you've heard. It is very helpful for our reach.
If you want to know more about change and how to make a change stick, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google or Stitcher or read more on our website: www.nexum.eu
EP10 - Elizabeth Loftus
Mon, 11/23 2:33PM • 42:19
memory, people, biases, remember, study, suggestive, witness, plant, problem, sister, distortions, event, false, bit, person, accurate, elizabeth, happened, true, identity
Morten Andersen, Elizabeth Loftus
Morten Andersen 00:05
Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.
Morten Andersen 00:21
How much can you trust your memory? What is memory? Well, let's find out in today's episode of What Monkeys Do, one of my strongest early memories is from when I was eight years old. So I'm playing with my sister in a little forest across the road from where we live. She's my little sister. So she is seven at the time, I had stolen some matches from my father. And we wanted to make a small fireplace in the forest, you know, just for fun. It was a warm summer day. And as soon as I set fire to the small pile of wood, the nearby grass also started to burn. And soon the fire went out of control. In reality, it was not a very big fire. But for an eight year old, the whole world was on fire. And it was my fault. So I had to go home and get help. My sister, she started to cry, she hid in a cave we sometimes played in. But because I was the older brother, I knew that I had to go and get help. It was my mistake, and I had to do something. And I ran home. And I was crying. As I ran across the road to find my dad. The first person I met was our neighbor and I cried, the forest is on fire, the forest is on fire. And then I found my dad. And I also told him through my tears, that the forest was on fire. And my dad and our neighbor grabbed some garden tools, ran to the fire and put it out. My sister was nowhere to be seen. And we had to find her. We call out her name, we looked everywhere. And then we found her in the end in that small cave, which we were playing. I told that story to my sister and my father about 10 years ago. And they both said that they remember that incident. But then they said that it wasn't actually me who had run home to get help. It was my sister. I had hit in the cave. I swear that I can remember that trip home. I can remember the tears running down my my cheek. I remember running across the road. I remember meeting my neighbor. I remember finding my sister, and had I not been familiar with my guests work then I would have sworn that my sister and my father were in this together. They were pulling my legs. But I knew that they could be right. Why? Because our memory is not perfect. In fact, it may be far from perfect. My guest today really needs no introduction. For anyone who studied psychology, her work is mandatory reading. In 2002. She was ranked 58 in the review of general psychology, his list of the hundred most influential psychological researchers in the 20th century, and she was ranked the highest woman on the list. She is an expert on human memory, and she is probably best known for her work on the nature of false memories and on eyewitness memory. But she is an authority on memory. Welcome to you, Elizabeth Loftus.
Elizabeth Loftus 03:24
Well, thank you.
Morten Andersen 03:25
Thank you. Fantastic. I want to start this conversation in a very specific place, because the first time that I heard about your work was when I was at university. And when we were learning about the last in the mall experiment, which I know that you did. And the experiment shows that it's actually possible to plant false memories in people. Can you tell us a little bit about that experiment, you know, what the setup was and what the conclusions from that was?
Elizabeth Loftus 03:53
Sure. Well, going back a little bit before that experiment. I and others psychologists, memory scientists, had done quite a few studies showing that you could change people's memories for the details of an event that they actually had experienced. Or they could have witnessed an accident where you know, a car went through a green light and you could convince witnesses that the car went through a red light. That's what I mean by a change in a detail. But in the 1990s I wanted to study the question of just how far can you go with people? Could you plant an entire event into the mind of ordinary people? I spent some time with my students trying to think of a way to do this and what kind of memory we wanted to try to plant so that we could study this process, and we came up with the idea. Why don't we make people try to believe in remember that when they were five or six years old, they were lost in a shopping mall. That they were frightened, they were ultimately rescued by an elderly person and reunited with the family. And that is the study that we did, through the power of suggestion planted those very rich false memories.
Morten Andersen 05:18
So it's basically an event that has never taken place. And they're being told that that is what happened, maybe by somebody in their family or somebody that they know, well, so they've been told that this is what happened. And then all of a sudden, that becomes a memory, like any other memory they have from their, from their childhood.
Elizabeth Loftus 05:38
That's right, we we, we actually did talk to the mother or father of our research subject, we found out some some true things that happen to the subject. And then with the parent, we created a completely false experience. We then presented these experiences to the subject as if they were all true. And we'd learned them from from their mother or father. And we encourage them to think about them and try to remember, and by the time we were done with about three suggestive interviews, we got about a quarter of these ordinary people to believe and remember, all of this are a part of this made up experience. That was the first study that demonstrated that you could plant an entire memory into the mind of someone, but there would be many other studies that were done by other scientists, or by my my research group, that showed the same thing with other kinds of events, things that would have been traumatic if they actually had happened.
Morten Andersen 06:52
I suppose this is a believable thing for me that this could have happened because, you know, I go to the mall, I go to the mall with my mother many times and I would have been lost there is a believable thing, I guess how, how far can you take that I mean, I I more traumatic thing or more something that would be out of the ordinary might have been more difficult or other also some studies where it has been quite a, I wouldn't say unbelievable thing. But something which is a little bit further away from a day to day thing.
Elizabeth Loftus 07:21
That Well, that's exactly the criticism that we got, after we started to present our results at scientific meetings and to publish the findings, the kind of thing that you're suggesting, isn't getting lost sort of common can get no show us you could plant something that would have been more unusual or bizarre or traumatic. Other investigators stepped in, and we too some planted of false memory that you nearly drowned and had to be rescued by a lifeguard, another group planted a false memory that you were attacked by a vicious animal or you had a serious indoor or outdoor accident. That was a Canadian study, they succeeded with about half of their subjects. With my Italian collaborator, we planted a false memory in Italian subjects, that when you were a kid, you witnessed a person being demonically possessed. Another group planted a false memory that when you were a teenager, you committed a crime. And it was serious enough that the police came to investigate. So you can see that subsequent studies planted even more unusual, bizarre or traumatic experiences.
Morten Andersen 08:41
I think it is fascinating. It's also a little bit scary. Because before I studied psychology, I was not only convinced that my memories were completely true, but also that all of the things with that memory was exact correct. And the story that I that I told him the beginning there, that was actually a dramatic shift that I had made in my memory in the construction of my memory, because I had thought that I had been the big brother saved my little sister in essence, but in actual fact, it was the other way around. So it really can be quite big things that can be, I would say not correct or even false.
Elizabeth Loftus 09:23
That's true. I mean, your story is a lovely story. I mean, I suppose it's conceivable that somehow your father and sister constructed something together even inadvertently, that conform to their version. Maybe your version is actually the one that would be, you know, a twist in this story. But it could also be that you after all that passage of time and reconstructing the event and brought in bits and pieces of the experience but make some mistakes in the process.
Morten Andersen 09:59
Yes. I guess I guess what I learned by thinking about that is that I had thought that our memory was really just a movie that our eyes were depicting, and then it put it down into a box in our brain. And if I had a good memory, I was able to locate that box and play that movie again. But what I find is that memory is actually a lot more constructed. Can you maybe give us a little bit of understanding of what is memory? And how should we understand memory
Elizabeth Loftus 10:27
is a process we we take in information from our experiences, we can store it and and later on, when we want to answer questions, or try to remember an experience, what we're really doing is not replaying a movie, we are often taking bits and pieces of experience and constructing what feels like a memory. Those bits and pieces can come from different times or different places. And now we've reconstructed something that's an alteration or a distortion of the way things things really were. That's why we talk about the constructive, or reconstructive nature of memory. I like to think of it as more like a Wikipedia page, you can go there and edit it, but so can other people.
Morten Andersen 11:20
Yes. And actually, the funny thing, why I tend to believe my sister's memory of this is more correct than mine is that my memory seemed not to be very good. I mean, when I think back to my childhood, I can't remember that many things. And I can't quite remember whether it was that year or that year, where she has a really good memory. Why is it that some people have better memories than others?
Elizabeth Loftus 11:46
You know, I am the same situation with my younger brother. He's the one with the truly excellent memory. And so his his siblings often defer to him. When there's any any kind of dispute about our childhood. You know, there there are individual differences in memory. Some people have better memories than others. Some people pay better attention to what's what's happening around them and others are more distracted.
Morten Andersen 12:12
How do people react when you sit at the dinner table? And they ask you, what do you do? And you tell them what you do? And and then you tell them? Well, memories, you can actually always trust your memory, because it's in large part constructed? How do people react to that?
Elizabeth Loftus 12:29
I think people are a bit uncomfortable with the idea that there could be so many bits of fiction floating around in our memory system, along with the facts that makes people a little uncomfortable. Maybe that's why that there are periodic attempts to challenge the work that I and many other scientists who do similar work have been doing. You know, I think collectively, we have made a very strong case for the malleable nature of memory. And I even have some good arguments for why this might be a good kind of system for humans to have.
Morten Andersen 13:10
So there is evolutionary reasons, good reasons for why our memory is as it is,
Elizabeth Loftus 13:16
I yeah. And I often get asked, you know, why would we be built this way? Why would God why would Darwin have made human beings and human memory system one that is so malleable? And there are a lot of reasons for that. I'll just give you a couple spontaneous errors creep into memory. And this flexible system means that we can update those errors that are in there spontaneously with accurate information, that would be a good thing. Hmm. Another point to be made along this line is that there are prestige enhancing memories that lots of people have memory distortions up. So people remember that they got grades that were better than they did, or they gave more to charity than they really did or that they voted in elections. They didn't vote in or that they had kids that walked and talked in an earlier age than they actually did these prestige enhancing memory distortions, maybe make us feel a little better about ourselves. Yes, and the interestingly depressed people don't don't do this as much. So So they've sometimes been called sadder but wiser. You know, if we can feel a little better about ourselves, that might be a motivational reason for these kinds of distortions. And then I'll just give you one more. The very same structures that are involved in the storage of memories of past experiences are also involved when people imagine different possible future outcomes. And to the extent that we could be flexible about imagining the future anticipating different parts futures and how we're going to respond. That would certainly be a useful feature of our thinking.
Morten Andersen 15:09
Morten Andersen 15:20
I don't remember where I was on the 10th of September 2001. But I do remember where it was on 11th of September 2001. So we have some times in some places where we do remember everything. So 911, I remember where I was, when I heard the news, I remember exactly how I felt what clothes I was wearing, whom I was with, I almost have a film of that exact moment in time. And I probably have a couple of those times in my life. How much should I trust that memory.
Elizabeth Loftus 15:54
That kind of memory is referred to in the psychology literature as a flashbulb memory. The idea that when some major significant event happens, a public event like the planes flying into the twin towers in New York on 911, that somehow we have kind of a well flashbulb memory for where we were when we heard the news. flashbulb memories were studied for the assassination of President Kennedy. And in the United States, just about anybody who was over the age of eight years old, at the time of that assassination, has a memory of where they were when they heard the news, we have the impression that these are strong memories, and maybe even like an imprint in the brain. But in fact, when researchers have studied them, they have found that even they are subject to contamination, take people who've, for example, shortly after 911, you asked them about where they were. So presumably, it's a few days later, their story is presumably fairly accurate. They might say, I was in my dorm room and my roommate came rushing in and say, did you hear what's happening in lower New York, they have a whole story about it. But when you come back to them two years or so later, and ask them again, their stories frequently change. Now the subject says, Oh, yeah, I remember I first learned about it when when I turned on the television. So that is why people have sometimes said, you know, these these kinds of experiences, they're a little special, but they're not so special, because they too, are subject to distortion and change, and the influence of newer thoughts, conversations and ideas.
Morten Andersen 17:51
So obviously, memory is something we use for remembering where did I park my car, and so on. But it's also more integrated in our identity than that, because if I have to tell you a little bit about who I am, I will have a string of memories from when I was five to now. And then I would have constructed a narrative around that. And that would be an identity, and they probably been formed in my mid 20s. Now, if I can't trust those memories completely, that would suggest that my co identity is up for negotiation all the time, is that a fair way to think of it?
Elizabeth Loftus 18:30
It's true that our memories that you know, are a part of our identity. And I'm with you on, you know, when we share experiences, particularly when if we make a new friend, or start a new friendship or a romantic entanglement, you're now telling stories about the past. And, and I've got my favorite stories that I think are mostly true. But I suppose even if they aren't exactly true, even if they are the the story I want to convey about myself, it might not matter very much.
Morten Andersen 19:08
Yeah, so that's, that's a really fair point. So obviously, if I think that, you know, people really like me in fourth grade or something, that's one thing. But if we are in the court of law, that's and that's where we rely a lot on memory as well. That's a whole different story. We have to rely. Well, our whole system is based on the foundation that people who come into a court of law not only will say the truth, but also the truth that they say is the truth. And you've done a lot of work with in the court of law. What do you generally see in terms of eyewitness statements, how much can we rely on them?
Elizabeth Loftus 19:44
Whether we can rely on an eye witness statement or not depends on the factors involved in this particular case, to the extent that you have a whole lot of problematic factors. Maybe there was an extreme amount of stress or fright, maybe there's a long passage of time before, there's a recollection or a recording of the event. Maybe there's lots of suggestive information biased media coverage or biased interrogation, maybe there's a test of memory, that's not a fair test. And to the extent that you have a pylon of these problematic factors, that's when you need to be really careful about relying on somebody's memory report, no matter how confidently it's expressed, no matter how much detail it has no matter that the person cries when they tell you the story, it might not be an authentic, completely accurate story.
Morten Andersen 20:48
So the person actually completely thinks it is correct. Can they pass a lie detector in that case? Because they actually believe so much in it? Or is there something that will trigger off in their neuro system that will tell them that, that this is a lie?
Elizabeth Loftus 21:03
Of course, people can lie, and people do lie. And you know, they lie for all kinds of reasons, but I study is people who are not deliberately lying. You know, one scientist once called them honest liars, they're people really believe in what they're saying, if you believed in the accuracy of a lie detection test, then they're gonna pass the lie detector, they're gonna look very sincere, they're gonna look authentic. And in part because they've deceived themselves.
Morten Andersen 21:34
Yes, it's really not alive, but a memory, which is not correct. I wonder whether you can retrieve the correct memory by hypnosis or any other ways that would make it more accurate than if the person told it? Or is it actually that it is, you cannot reconstruct it correctly, so to speak?
Elizabeth Loftus 21:55
Well, I I would be very leery of using hypnosis to try to ferret out some buried memories that had been overlaid or interfered with a subsequent suggestive information. Because especially when you're dealing with highly hypnotizable people, they're even more suggestible and even more easy to contaminate. And that's why so many jurisdictions in the United States have banned the use of witnesses who have had their memories hypnotically refreshed for criminal trials.
Morten Andersen 22:34
Okay, my ground is starting to shake a little bit, because what we're suggesting is that a lot of our memory it can be, it may not be completely correct, even the ones where we would put a 99% mark on it, because it's a flashbulb memory, it still may not be completely right. And in many cases, it doesn't really matter that you wore a blue dress or a red dress at a party 10 years ago, probably doesn't matter so much. But in some cases, it does actually matter very much. And two cases I can think of one is, is my core identity, which is built on a few precious memories that I have the other places in the court of law, I suppose, when you examine how accurate memories are, is there a measure around how accurate memories are generally? Or how do we find out how accurately people remember
Elizabeth Loftus 23:24
when you're an experimental psychologist as I am, and you do experiments, and you show people simulating accidents or simulated crimes, and then you test memory under a variety of conditions? You know what the ground truth is? So you know, that the memory report you're getting, where it is accurate, where it's inaccurate? And what many of the conditions are that lead to inaccuracy? When you get involved in a court case, you don't always know what really happened. When I am consulting in actual court cases, which I do periodically. I'm looking to see, Are there examples of factors that are known from the literature to produce problems for accurate memory? And am I seeing changes in somebody's memory rapport? You know, one common thing that happens is somebody goes to a lineup to try to identify a perpetrator. They're not very sure, or they look at some photos, and they're not very sure, maybe it's number two. And by the time they get to trial, they're super confident, if they're super confident, it's the person who happened to be number two in the photograph, and now that person gets convicted. Well, how did that confidence go from I'm not very sure to I'm absolutely certain. Sometimes it's because those witnesses are given other information. That's who we think it is. That's our suspect. Their fingerprints. We think we're at the scene. And so now you've inflated the witness's confidence you've made them a much powerful, more compelling witness when they testify at trial, and they end up getting somebody convicted, whether that person is innocent or guilty.
Morten Andersen 25:16
I think the knowledge of maybe that memories are not completely accurate, can also help for instance, with with conflicts, so maybe a conflict started 10 years ago with my neighbor, and I have a vivid memory of what happened. He has a vivid memory of what happened. But if we both start from an understanding that, obviously how we've how our perception of it could be wrong, but also our memory itself could be wrong, that might loosen up some conflicts just by starting at that level, I suppose.
Elizabeth Loftus 25:48
Well, that's a great practical suggestion that flows from this particular scientific work. When I see a friend or a family member, or even I'm myself might make a mistake, I don't immediately assume that the family member friend or a big fat liar, maybe they really believe in what they're saying. It's a false belief or a false memory on their part. And that's a much kinder way to feel about other people, greater tolerance, and I think will help us get along better.
Morten Andersen 26:26
Yes. It's interesting how even false memories can become so strong that you would do you would bet your life almost that it is correct. Remember, some studies I've read, late 60s and early 70s, when people all of a sudden could remember things that had happened to them, when they were children, by their parents, for instance, there were memories that they had never had before. And then they were in, let's say, in therapy, and all of a sudden they had these new memories that that came out. And I suppose understanding memory also helped resolve some of those problems at that time when people all of a sudden had a memory that that came from nowhere. But then all of a sudden became very real, he almost physically real for them.
Elizabeth Loftus 27:09
I know that time period very well, I was in the trenches of the memory wars, where people were going into therapy, maybe with one kind of problem. Maybe they had a depression or anxiety or an eating disorder. And they would come out of this therapy, believing that they had been traumatized. But they've been maybe even forced into satanic rituals and forced to sacrifice animals. The Most Extreme and extensive, horrific brutalization is children. And men, some of them then would bring lawsuits against their parents or their other relatives or former neighbors, former doctors or dentists. And it looked like it was really the highly suggestive psychotherapy that was contributing to this massive number of false accusations. But these supposedly repressed memories that were recovered after this suggestive psychotherapy were a big problem in society. And the problem is not completely over.
Morten Andersen 28:22
Really, I because I thought that that's what should we call it memory War that time actually showed that by informing the society about the fallacy of memory that actually took away that problem?
Elizabeth Loftus 28:34
I would say it's certainly reduce the problem. It didn't take it away completely. It contributed to the reduction in the problem. What contributed even more is when have hundreds of these patients began to realize that their memories were false. Yes, they had been induced to remember these things through the psychotherapy, and they filed lawsuits against their therapists, finding that they had jury verdicts and judgments against them for millions of dollars. That certainly helped to wake people up to the problem of some of these suggestive practices. I put still today, it's not covered in the media as much because the media covered it so extensively. You know, these days, you have to have somebody really, really famous being accused or some really famous do the accusing in order to get it back in the news. But you still see these we hear here now still see these court cases, and the families caught up in these accusations.
Morten Andersen 29:43
Okay. I'm trying to get my wife to remember that I remembered her anniversary our anniversary two years ago, but it hasn't actually worked yet. So it's not all consistent work that plant false memories unfortunately.
Morten Andersen 30:06
The podcast What Monkeys Do is also about change. And we also want to look at is there anything we can do to maybe improve our memory? So there's really two things. When I think about memory that I would like to be better at one thing is to remember more of, say, my childhood. And the second is after, especially after having spoken to you improve the accuracy of my memories. Is there anything that I can do with my past memories? Or is there anything I should go forward? That would make me remember things better? Is that something you have looked at into as well?
Elizabeth Loftus 30:43
Usually, when people ask about how can I be better at remembering things? They're not asking about remembering childhood? Hmm, I think if you want to remember things about childhood, you know, you might talk to other other family members or people who were around, they could provide some retrieval cues for you, that might help you remember some experiences that you haven't thought about for a long, long time, when people are asking me about how can I better remember, they want to know things like, you know, sometimes I hear somebody, I'm introduced to somebody at a party. And shortly afterwards, I can't remember their name. So they've just said their name. Is there something I can do about that I'm so bad with names? Well, there is something you can do. And that is a couple of things, pay better attention. Sometimes we're not letting it sink in. Because we're not really paying attention. We're thinking about what we want to say next, but pay better attention at the time you're getting the information. And then you want to rehearse that information afterwards. You know, I just learned your name is Morten. And I now know I've got to pay attention Morten, and I want to rehearse it. But how do I rehearse it? Do I? Do I say it to myself every 10 minutes? Or what do I do? What's the pattern of rehearsal? Well, we have identified the best patterns of reversal. And that best pattern is not every 10 minutes, it's an expanding pattern, five minutes and think, okay, it's Morten then maybe I'll wait another 20 minutes and try it again. Yep, it's more than that. I'll wait maybe an hour. And then five hours, you see the expanding pattern. And that is the best pattern for rehearsal. If I want to lock that name in and be able to remember it when I want to say hello to you again, or refer to you in some conversation
Morten Andersen 32:44
with me particularly, I remember numbers incredibly well and names quite poorly. And I have a friend, she's the other way around. Is that a thing? Or is that just because we happen to like numbers of people better or what what is what is down with that?
Elizabeth Loftus 33:00
The only thing I can relate that to is the idea that sometimes people are better at remembering things that they're interested in. Hmm. I don't know about numbers versus names. But if they're better at remembering things they're interested in, and less likely possibly to be distorted. That may help explain the number versus name issue. I mean, I know if I'm listening to the radio, and while driving in my car, and I hear stock market prices. I'm more interested in that. And I can tell you that Apple stock is now at this today. But if I spell scores, okay, I don't remember them at all. They just don't stick. And I'm the reverse has got to be true for lots and lots of other people.
Morten Andersen 33:47
Yes. Generally, in terms of memory, what is the latest that we have discovered about memory or what is sort of new ground that we are looking at in terms of memory? from a scientific point of view?
Elizabeth Loftus 34:01
What there is recent work that I think is pretty interesting, showing that your pre existing biases can affect what you remember, and your pre existing biases can affect how likely you are to be susceptible to memory contamination. People, for example, who are biased against a particular political party are more likely to show distortions that make the opposition look bad. Yes, I collaborated in on a study that was done in Ireland in conjunction with the referendum on abortion, which showed that the pro choice people were more likely to develop a false memory that made the opposition look bad. And the same thing for the anti choice people more likely to fall for memory that made the opposition look bad. I mean, this might help us think about why we have so much dissension in our culture right now and so much infighting in our different political groups, because they may have very different memories. Yes. Well, that may give us some idea about how we might solve that problem.
Morten Andersen 35:25
Yes, I think that's really, really fascinating. Because we know about biases, I think we've come a long way with that than economists, obviously. So it's a big influential in that area, has shown how we pay attention to things, you know, how much our bias influences what we pay attention to what we decide, and how much that is out of our Yes, of course, conscious decision making. But how that would also influence our memory, I think makes a ton of sense. Because if you say that what we pay attention to also impact impacts what we remember, then our biases, and our unconscious biases, most of the case would impact our memory in great deal. So the problem obviously, is that they often unconscious, and biases are difficult to be aware of using that in a practical sense might actually be difficult. I mean, the first thing is to be aware of your biases, and then be aware of the distortion that it makes on your decisions and your memory. And then to make an active choice that it shouldn't do. That's a hard thing to do, I suppose
Elizabeth Loftus 36:31
it is a hard thing to do. But and it may be that we can get some help from technology to do it. I recently wanted to read an article that some friend on Facebook and posted and then to share it, and Facebook pops up with before you share this. Are you aware that this article is eight years old? Wow. Oh, no, I wasn't I thought it was a recent article. And so then I'm slowed down, I can think about do I share it even though it's eight years old? Well, similar kinds of alerts and warnings, to slow people down and kind of alert them to the potential for it's old or it's been heavily disputed, or some other aspect about the content might help with this info demick that we have.
Morten Andersen 37:24
This is not something people talk a lot about. So bias is obviously a hot topic, but it's mainly around the decisions that we make. And I think if we could add on that it also impacts the memory that we have, and therefore our future decisions, then I think that would that would give a whole lot more credence to we need to use technology to to as a as a way to overcome this.
Elizabeth Loftus 37:48
Well, I like that. Yes.
Morten Andersen 37:50
Elizabeth Loftus 37:51
You're gonna keep us employed.
Morten Andersen 37:53
I hopefully, hopefully I will. Let's say that I'm sitting at a dinner table tonight with a person that I don't really know. And she will ask me, so memory, I don't know anything about memory, what three things? Should I know about memory that I don't know? And she has what I would call an average knowledge of what memory is, what three things? Should I tell her that she should know about our memory?
Elizabeth Loftus 38:18
The first thing I can think of? To answer that question about what do I want people to know about memory, I gave a TED talk a few years ago. And what I basically said at the end of this talk is I want to leave you with this take home lesson, just because somebody tells you something. And they say it with a lot of detail. Or just because they express it with a lot of confidence. Just because they show emotion, when they tell you, it doesn't mean it actually happened. false memories have these same characteristics. And you need independent corroboration to know whether you're dealing with an authentic memory, or one that's a product of some other process like imagination, dreams that you're confusing with reality or some other process, besides a true perception and memory.
Morten Andersen 39:14
Fantastic. I saw that Ted Talk. And I will, I will encourage all listeners to go and see that it's a phenomenal TED Talk, by the way. And I think ending with on that note is a great way to end both the TED talk but also this conversation. Elizabeth, I want to say thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation with me. I think knowledge about how memory is something that I still think that most people believe that memories are almost a movie of what happened at that time taken from their perspective of their eyes. And it is not and I think your work is phenomenally important. And thanks very much for having this conversation.
Elizabeth Loftus 39:52
Okay, well, my pleasure. Morten Morten Morten.
Morten Andersen 39:56
Yes. Thank you very much. I have been looking forward to this interview for a while. Elizabeth is an inspiration and a fantastic resource in the field of memory. And in the field of psychology of memory. I took three things away from our conversation. One, we cannot trust our memory. Our memory is simply not a true representation of what happened. Not even when we so strongly convinced that we know what happened, like where were you on 911 it is possible to plant false memories in people. And our strongest memories may not be completely accurate to all biases influence our memories. I have another interviews talk about biases, how they affect our decision making, how they affect the way we looked at the world. Elizabeth remind us that our biases also influence our memories. We simply remember an event different from each other dependent on our biases. And that's another reason to watch out for all the biases we have. Three, we can drain our memories, we can train to make our memories more accurate and be able to remember more. So if you're a person who's struggling to remember names of people that you've met at the party, you can actually do a couple of things. And even though they sound quite obvious, they actually help so you can pay better attention. Attention actually improves the quality of your memories. So filtering out other things such as, such as your own thoughts, actually helps. Also, rehearsing that information straight after also greatly improves the quality and your ability to remember correct. Elizabeth has made a fantastic TED Talk, which has been watched more than 5 million times. The TED Talk is called How reliable is your memory? And even though you now know the answer to that it's a video that I will recommend anyone to see. So enjoy that. Until next time, take care