Breaking News
February 16, 2019 - Conformance of genetic characteristics found to be crucial for longer preservation of kidney graft
February 16, 2019 - Researchers use optogenetic tool to control, visualize receptor signals in neural cells
February 16, 2019 - New reversible antiplatelet therapy could reduce risk of blood clots, prevent cancer metastasis
February 16, 2019 - Testosterone is not the only hormone needed for penis development
February 16, 2019 - FDA Advisory Committee Recommends Approval of Spravato (esketamine) Nasal Spray for Adults with Treatment-Resistant Depression
February 15, 2019 - Heart surgery technology developed at Baptist Health debuts after years of secrecy
February 15, 2019 - Prescription Opioids Double Risk of Triggering Fatal Car Crash
February 15, 2019 - New study helps doctors better understand high blood pressure in pregnant women
February 15, 2019 - Beta wave control in Parkinson’s diseased brain could be a potential therapy
February 15, 2019 - Media representations of love may justify gender-based violence in young people
February 15, 2019 - Yoga May Help With Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms, Severity
February 15, 2019 - Obstructive sleep apnea linked to inflammation, organ dysfunction
February 15, 2019 - Master your mind: A challenge from WELL for Life
February 15, 2019 - Why Some Brain Tumors Respond to Immunotherapy
February 15, 2019 - Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes
February 15, 2019 - Researchers uncover novel mechanism and potential new therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s
February 15, 2019 - Genetic variations in a fourth gene associated with higher ALL risk in Hispanic children
February 15, 2019 - Disruptive behavioral problems in kindergarten linked with lower employment earnings in adulthood
February 15, 2019 - New bioengineered device enhances the production of T-cells
February 15, 2019 - HDL proteome behaves like a tiny Velcro ball that is rolling on surfaces
February 15, 2019 - Puerto Rican children more likely to have poor or decreasing use of asthma inhalers
February 15, 2019 - Quality of patient care does not improve after physician-hospital integration
February 15, 2019 - Synopsys release new software for implant design and patient-specific planning
February 15, 2019 - 6 out of 10 hip replacements last 25 years or longer
February 15, 2019 - Health Tip: What You Should Know About Antibiotics
February 15, 2019 - New research challenges medical consensus that adenoids and tonsils significantly shrink during teenage years
February 15, 2019 - Discovery of weakness in a rare cancer could be exploited with drugs
February 15, 2019 - UVA scientists find potential explanation for mysterious cell death in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
February 15, 2019 - New rules requiring female athletes to lower testosterone levels are based on flawed data
February 15, 2019 - Researchers comprehensively sequence the human immune system
February 15, 2019 - Researchers study animal venoms to identify new medicines for treating diseases
February 15, 2019 - Movement of wrist bones revealed by MRI and computer modeling
February 15, 2019 - Philips introduces new premium digital X-ray room to help shorten patient wait times
February 15, 2019 - Women fare worse than men following aortic heart surgery, study finds
February 15, 2019 - High-protein and low-calorie diet helps older adults lose weight safely, shows study
February 15, 2019 - Drug microdosing effects may not measure up to big expectations
February 15, 2019 - Discharged, Dismissed: ERs Often Miss Chance To Set Overdose Survivors On ‘Better Path’
February 15, 2019 - A digitized lab environment to be showcased at smartLAB 2019
February 15, 2019 - Scientists uncover main mechanisms of fluconazole drug resistance
February 15, 2019 - New study seeks to understand how colibactin causes cancer
February 15, 2019 - Photoacoustic imaging accurately measures the temperature of deep tissues
February 15, 2019 - Large study finds no association between phthalate exposure and breast cancer risk
February 15, 2019 - New research explains presence of ‘natural’ magnetism in human cells
February 15, 2019 - Bio-Rad launches new digital PCR system and kit for monitoring treatment response in CML patients
February 15, 2019 - Scientists shed light on damaging cell effects linked to aging
February 15, 2019 - Celiac disease may be caused by stomach bug in childhood
February 15, 2019 - NHS performance figures highlight the true scale of Emergency Department crisis
February 15, 2019 - High intensity exercise may improve health by increasing gut microbiota diversity
February 15, 2019 - Apellis’ APL-2 Receives Orphan Drug Designation from the FDA for the Treatment of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
February 15, 2019 - Couples creating art or playing board games release ‘love hormone’
February 15, 2019 - Glimpsing The Future At Gargantuan Health Tech Showcase
February 15, 2019 - Common herbicide found to increase the risk of lymphoma
February 15, 2019 - Over-abundance of energy to cells could increase cancer risk
February 15, 2019 - Oxford Genetics appoints Jocelyne Bath as new Chief Operating Officer
February 15, 2019 - Castration-resistant metastatic prostate cancer responds to combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors
February 15, 2019 - Large-scale clinical trial begins to study liver transplantation between people with HIV
February 15, 2019 - Cannabis use among adolescents linked with increased risk of depression in adulthood
February 15, 2019 - Fractures, head injuries common in electric scooter accidents, UCLA study finds
February 15, 2019 - Prenatal maternal depression has important consequences for infant temperament, study shows
February 15, 2019 - Stereotactic body radiotherapy effective in treating men with low- or intermediate-risk prostate cancer
February 15, 2019 - Zogenix Submits New Drug Application to U.S. Food & Drug Administration for Fintepla for the Treatment of Dravet Syndrome
February 15, 2019 - Certain birthmarks warrant quick treatment, pediatricians say
February 15, 2019 - New machine learning method predicts if atypical ductal hyperplasia will turn cancerous
February 15, 2019 - Whole-genome sequencing and sharing real-time data could limit spread of foodborne bacteria
February 15, 2019 - FDA warns doctor for illegally marketing unapproved implantable device
February 15, 2019 - New injury documentation tool may provide better evidence for elder abuse cases
February 15, 2019 - Physiological age is a better predictor of survival than chronological age, shows study
February 15, 2019 - New study reveals high success rate for hip and knee replacements
February 15, 2019 - Prenatal exposures to BPA may pose threat to human ovarian function
February 15, 2019 - Suspicious spots on the lungs of children with rhabdomyosarcoma do not behave like metastases
February 15, 2019 - Diet drinks daily could raise stroke risk says study
February 15, 2019 - Many Systematic Reviews Do Not Fully Report Adverse Events
February 15, 2019 - Seven tips to protect your child from burns
February 15, 2019 - Keynote speakers announced for CBD Expo MIDWEST
February 15, 2019 - New DNA methylation GrimAge tool allows you to predict lifespan and healthspan
February 15, 2019 - New AI-driven platform analyze how pathogens infect human cells
February 15, 2019 - Increased activity of EHMT2 gene deficient neurons could cause autism in humans
February 15, 2019 - Recurring UTIs may mask symptoms of bladder or kidney cancer
February 15, 2019 - Researchers conduct extensive comparison of drugs used in treating neuroendocrine tumors
February 15, 2019 - Depression prevention for pregnant women and new mothers – new recommendations
The ‘real you’ is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

The ‘real you’ is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print
Credit: Vlasov Yevhenii/Shutterstock

We all want other people to “get us” and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a “real me”. But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple – we are a product of our life experiences, which we can be easily accessed through our memories of the past.

Indeed, substantial research has shown that memories shape a person’s identity. People with profound forms of amnesia typically also lose their identity – as beautifully described by the late writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks in his case study of 49-year-old Jimmy G, the “lost mariner”, who struggles to find meaning as he cannot remember anything that’s happened after his late adolescence.

But it turns out that identity is often not a truthful representation of who we are anyway – even if we have an intact memory. Research shows that we don’t actually access and use all available memories when creating personal narratives. It is becoming increasingly clear that, at any given moment, we unawarely tend to choose and pick what to remember.

When we create personal narratives, we rely on a psychological screening mechanism, dubbed the monitoring system, which labels certain mental concepts as memories, but not others. Concepts that are rather vivid and rich in detail and emotion – episodes we can re-experience – are more likely to be marked as memories. These then pass a “plausibility test” carried out by a similar monitoring system which tells whether the events fit within the general personal history. For example, if we remember flying unaided in vivid detail, we know straight away that it cannot be real.

But what is selected as a personal memory also needs to fit the current idea that we have of ourselves. Let’s suppose you have always been a very kind person, but after a very distressing experience you have developed a strong aggressive trait that now suits you. Not only has your behaviour changed, your personal narrative has too. If you are now asked to describe yourself, you might include past events previously omitted from your narrative – for example, instances in which you acted aggressively.

False memories

And this is only half of the story. The other half has to do with the truthfulness of the memories that each time are chosen and picked to become part of the personal narrative. Even when we correctly rely on our memories, they can be highly inaccurate or outright false: we often make up memories of events that never happened.

Remembering is not like playing a video from the past in your mind – it is a highly reconstructive process that depends on knowledge, self image, needs and goals. Indeed, brain imaging studies have shown that personal memory does not have just one location in the brain, it is based on an “autobiographical memory brain network” which comprises many separate areas.

Triff/shuttestock”>
The 'real you' is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want
Many parts of the brain are involved in creating personal memories. Credit: Triff/shuttestock

A crucial area is the frontal lobes, which are in charge of integrating all the information received into an event that needs to be meaningful – both in the sense of lacking impossible, incongruent elements within it, but also in the sense of fitting the idea the individual remembering has of themselves. If not congruent or meaningful, the memory is either discarded or undergoes changes, with information added or deleted.

Memories are therefore very malleable, they can be distorted and changed easily, as many studies in our lab have shown. For example, we have found that suggestions and imagination can create memories that are very detailed and emotional while still completely false. Jean Piaget, a famous developmental psychologist, remembered all his life in vivid detail an event in which he was abducted with his nanny – she often told him about it. After many years, she confessed to having made the story up. At that point, Piaget stopped believing in the memory, but it nevertheless remained as vivid as it was before.

Memory manipulation

We have assessed the frequency and nature of these false and no-longer-believed memories in a series of studies. Examining a very large sample across several countries, we discovered that they are actually rather common. What’s more, as for Piaget, they all feel very much like real memories.

This remained true even when we successfully created false memories in the lab using doctored videos suggesting that participants had performed certain actions. We later told them that these memories never actually happened. At this point, the participants stopped believing in the memory but reported that the characteristics of it made them feel as if it were true.

A common source of false memories are photos from the past. In a new study, we have discovered that we are particularly likely to create false memories when we see an image of someone who is just about to perform an action. That’s because such scenes trigger our minds to imagine the action being carried out over time.

But is all this a bad thing? For a number of years, researchers have focused on the negatives of this process. For example, there are fears that therapy could create false memories of historical sexual abuse, leading to false accusations. There have also been heated discussions about how people who suffer from mental health problems – for example, depression – can be biased to remember very negative events. Some self-help books therefore make suggestions about how to obtain a more accurate sense of self. For example, we could reflect on our biases and get feedback from others. But it is important to remember that other people may have false memories about us, too.

Crucially, there are upsides to our malleable memory. Picking and choosing memories is actually the norm, guided by self-enhancing biases that lead us to rewrite our past so it resembles what we feel and believe now. Inaccurate memories and narratives are necessary, resulting from the need to maintain a positive, up-to-date sense of self.

My own personal narrative is that I am a person who has always loved science, who has lived in many countries and met many people. But I might have made it up, at least in part. My current enjoyment for my job, and frequent travels, might taint my memories. Ultimately, there may have been times when I didn’t love science and wanted to settle down permanently. But clearly it doesn’t matter, does it? What matters is that I am happy and know what I want now.


Explore further:
What is your first memory – and did it ever really happen?

Provided by:
The Conversation

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles