Brain Awareness Video Contest

Our Memories Are Not as They Seem

  • Published8 Oct 2021
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

The memories stored in our brains can change for many reasons, such as the passage of time or the context surrounding our memory recall. And some of the events we think we remember may not have even happened in the first place.

This is a video from the 2021 Brain Awareness Video Contest.

Created by Disha Choksi.



In the 21st century we now know that

memory formation has several steps

after the data is temporarily

transcribed by neurons in the cortex

it travels to the hippocampus where

special proteins work to strengthen the

synaptic connections

if the memory is strong enough or

repeated enough times

the hippocampus transfers the memory to

different places in the brain

depending on the type of memory such as

the prefrontal cortex

or the cerebellum for storage without

the hippocampus to perform the


memories would erode like messages

scrawled in the sand


it's easy to assume that your memory

works like a camera

you take snapshots of your life and

sometimes it's hard to find a picture

or you accidentally delete or lose one

but the ones you keep

are a good record of what actually


but psychologists who study memory

actually think it works more like a

wikipedia page

you can trust it as a general reference

but every time you remember something

you can make changes to it and so can

other people

in fact there are loads of ways that

your mind can be tricked into making a

false memory


one way is through suggestion dropping

hints that something happened in a

certain way

through word choice in one experiment

researchers played college students a

video of a car crash

and asked them questions one group was

asked how fast the cars were going when

they smashed into each other

and the other group was asked how fast

the cars were going when they hit

each other the difference in words

affected their memory when the word

smashed was used the estimates

increased by about three miles per hour

then a week later they were all asked

whether they saw broken glass in the


in the group where the word smashed had

been used 16 people remembered broken


compared to seven in the other group

when in fact there was no broken glass

at all there are hundreds of other

experiments proving this point too


it turns out we're also bad at

remembering if an event happened in the

first place

instead of just dreaming it up this is

called source misattribution

in particular i remember my eighth

birthday party when i'd gone to a water

park with my family

that memory is so blurry to me now i

doubt it even being real

but then i asked my parents turns out it


but another type of false memory was

ingrained into that one

i remember sliding down a wavy slide and

at the end of the slide seeing the

shelter area

which had banners all around it i saw

the banners as saying happy birthday


i felt ecstatic and over the years i

thought i was famous

all from this one false memory my

parents version of the story was quite


they remember the wavy slide and the

banner being hung on the circular dome

while i thought it was rectangular and

apparently the banner said happy diwali

i found this quite hard to believe as my

birthday is in april

both views seem very unrealistic and

bound to

have been false memories or at least

distorted ones

but regardless of the years of being

told otherwise by my parents

i still believe my memory and it doesn't

matter to me if it was false or not

because deep down in my heart i know

that my version of the story

was correct

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