Breaking News
October 17, 2018 - Application of blood pressure guidelines ups treatment
October 17, 2018 - Stanford researchers find that small molecule may help treat enzyme deficiency
October 17, 2018 - Speed Cameras Save Money and Lives in New York City
October 17, 2018 - Men who conform to ‘the man box’ more likely to consider suicide and violence
October 17, 2018 - Researchers aim to create more authentic organoids for drug testing, transplantation
October 16, 2018 - New blood test for pediatric brain tumor patients offers safer approach than surgical biopsies
October 16, 2018 - Age-related estrogen increase may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias in men
October 16, 2018 - Skills-Based Intervention Did Not Cut Systolic BP After Stroke, TIA
October 16, 2018 - Researchers uncover new role of TIP60 protein in controlling tumour formation
October 16, 2018 - Behind the scenes of a lifesaving heart surgery
October 16, 2018 - ‘To See the Suffering’
October 16, 2018 - Drinking concentrated rosemary extract can boost memory by up to 15%, shows research
October 16, 2018 - Medicare Advantage riding high as new insurers flock to sell to seniors
October 16, 2018 - NHS tackles prescription fraud to save millions
October 16, 2018 - New molecular switch may help develop sophisticated photomedications
October 16, 2018 - Health Highlights: Oct. 12, 2018
October 16, 2018 - Study holds promise for new pediatric brain tumor treatment
October 16, 2018 - Patient advocate uses MRI scans to create art and spark conversations about life with illness
October 16, 2018 - Fish oil based diets may suppress growth and spread of breast cancer cells
October 16, 2018 - Number of VHA facilities offering acupuncture has increased rapidly
October 16, 2018 - Influential Leapfrog Group jumps in to rate 5,600 surgery centers
October 16, 2018 - HIV-infected infants more likely to acquire congenital cytomegalovirus infection
October 16, 2018 - Study pinpoints new marker that can predict Crohn’s disease subtype
October 16, 2018 - Simple procedure could be efficacious intervention for failed back surgery
October 16, 2018 - New research identifies modifiable dementia risk factor in elderly people
October 16, 2018 - Zebrafish study uncovers molecular ‘brake’ that helps control eye lens development
October 16, 2018 - Overlapping copy number variations underlie autism and schizophrenia in Japanese patients
October 16, 2018 - Early menopause and diabetes may reduce life expectancy
October 16, 2018 - Majority of Americans’ ancestry can be traced through existing DNA databases
October 16, 2018 - Patients coerced into mental health care less likely to perceive treatment as effective
October 16, 2018 - Healthy elders can consume walnuts without having negative impact on weight gain, finds study
October 16, 2018 - Interactive robot helps older people exercise and detects underlying health problems
October 16, 2018 - What you need to know about autism spectrum disorder
October 16, 2018 - Antidepressants can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
October 16, 2018 - Study uncovers important role of PRMT1 in dilated cardiomyopathy
October 16, 2018 - Nutritional quality of breakfast linked to cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors in children
October 16, 2018 - Study uses novel approach to investigate genetic origins of mental illnesses
October 16, 2018 - Scientists develop dual anthrax-plague vaccine
October 16, 2018 - Poor Outcomes for Hispanic Infants With Congenital Heart Dz
October 16, 2018 - Global study finds youngest in class more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD
October 16, 2018 - Researchers sequence two selfish genes in the fungus Neurospora intermedia
October 16, 2018 - Survey results highlight the need for better communication between patients and HCPs about bacterial vaginosis
October 16, 2018 - Researchers develop fibrin-targeting immunotherapy to protect against neurodegeneration
October 16, 2018 - Researchers create open access database on healthy immunity
October 16, 2018 - Rice University chemist wins big award to study small surfaces
October 16, 2018 - Study finds 43% drop in stroke rate
October 16, 2018 - Researchers identify basic relationships of cell cycle and cellular senescence in the placenta
October 16, 2018 - UA professor receives NSF grant to develop antifouling materials for medical implants
October 16, 2018 - Obesity Doubles Odds for Colon Cancer in Younger Women
October 16, 2018 - Adults with ADHD not constrained in creativity
October 16, 2018 - Raising visibility for people and students with chronic illness and disability
October 16, 2018 - Allele awarded NIH grant to develop nanoantibody therapies for treatment of sepsis
October 16, 2018 - Only 59% of young adults undergoing surgery are fluid responsive
October 16, 2018 - Research points to potential new treatment for hearing loss
October 16, 2018 - MDI Biological Laboratory receives $1.2 million SEPA grant to promote data literacy
October 16, 2018 - Vast majority of dementia cases may arise from spontaneous genetic errors
October 16, 2018 - New project aims to deliver fast, effective treatment for autoimmune rheumatic diseases
October 16, 2018 - Study identifies molecular switch that controls fate of milk-producing breast cells
October 16, 2018 - Research shows diet has little influence on precursor to gout
October 16, 2018 - “Without Dr. Shumway doing his miracle work, three generations would not be here”: A Stanford heart transplant patient’s story
October 16, 2018 - Non-invasive brain stimulation sheds light on neurobiology underlying implicit bias
October 16, 2018 - Researchers demonstrate integrated technique to control production of cell therapeutics
October 16, 2018 - Breast tomosynthesis detects 34% more tumors than traditional mammography
October 16, 2018 - Rhode Island Hospital, Brown receive $800,000 grant to keep up fight against opioid epidemic
October 16, 2018 - UVA partners with health systems in AVIA network’s Medicaid Transformation Project
October 16, 2018 - Trevena Announces Oliceridine FDA Advisory Committee Meeting Outcome
October 16, 2018 - Study reveals early warning signs of heart problems in patients with newly diagnosed lupus
October 16, 2018 - Connecting the dots of Alzheimer’s disease
October 16, 2018 - New publication offers evidence-based content for global breast imaging medical community
October 16, 2018 - ‘EinsteinVision’ that improves hand-eye coordination of surgeons introduced at Harefield Hospital
October 16, 2018 - WRAIR clinical study evaluates safety and immunogenicity of Marburg vaccine
October 16, 2018 - Ketamine can be considered as alternative to opioids for short-term pain control in ED
October 16, 2018 - Endurance exercise training beneficially alters gut microbiota composition
October 15, 2018 - FDA Approves Yutiq (fluocinolone acetonide intravitreal implant) for Chronic Non-Infectious Posterior Segment Uveitis
October 15, 2018 - Birthing Options for Full-Term Pregnancy
October 15, 2018 - Stressed, toxic, zombie cells seen for first time in Alzheimer’s
October 15, 2018 - Concussion researchers study head motion in high school football hits | News Center
October 15, 2018 - Neuropsychiatric symptoms related to earliest stages of Alzheimer’s brain pathology
October 15, 2018 - Neck collar device may help protect the brain of female high school soccer players
October 15, 2018 - Research reveals how the inner ear processes speech
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