Did That Just Happen? How Your Brain Alters Mental Timelines

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It sounds like a scene from a detective novel: The witness sees a body falling from the window, and then hears a loud noise that sounds like the body hitting the ground. But what if the noise actually came before the fall?

Navigating through our memories of past events seems to be easy task, but we don't always get it right. We might remember things that didn't happen, and we can also get the time wrong. We may remember incidents as happening closer together or farther apart than they actually did, or even completely mess up the order of events.

Exactly how the brain organizes memories in relation to each other in time has long puzzled scientists. In a new study, researchers set out to identify the nature of brain activity that puts a time stamp on our memories.

"Our memories are known to be 'altered' versions of reality, and how time is altered has not been well understood," said study researcher Lila Davachi, an associate professor of Psychology at New York University.

"People think their memories are a reflection of reality. They somewhat are, but they are a better reflection of what's happening inside their head," Davachi told Live Science.

The new research shows a link between activity patterns in the hippocampus — a region known to be involved in forming memories — and how near or far away in time people placed their memories, according to the findings detailed Wednesday (Mar. 5) in the journal Neuron.  

Did all that happen at one party?

To understand how people remember the order in which events occurred, the researchers had 21 study participants watch images of faces flash a few seconds apart, with an image of an outdoor scene flashing in between the faces. The idea was that the faces each represented an event, for example meeting a new person, and the scene represented where that event took place, for example in a party.

"We were trying to create stability in the environment, trying to mimic what it feels like when you go into a room or to a party and stay there for a long time," Davachi said. "The basic spatial context is the same, but you're seeing lots of different people."

Meanwhile, researchers used a brain-imaging technique, fMRI, to scan participants' brain activity in the hippocampus.

Participants later judged how close in time any two particular faces had appeared, rating them as very close to each other, close, far or very far apart. They didn't know that all pairs of faces had appeared at equal, 16-second intervals.

Written By: Bahar Gholipour
continue to source article at livescience.com

9 COMMENTS

  1. Your memory would not only be inaccurate but entirely irrational if you remember hearing the sound of a falling body impacting a roof before it hits the roof…that’s not logical or possible !

    • In reply to #2 by Light Wave:

      Your memory would not only be inaccurate but entirely irrational if you remember hearing the sound of a falling body impacting a roof before it hits the roof…that’s not logical or possible !

      Yes, but if Satan (or god) can plant fossils to trick us, how hard do you think it would be for him to plant a false memory? Hmm?? ;-)

      Steve

  2. Did I just read this article for the first time; or have I read it before?

    It’s been known for donkeys’ years that cab drivers’ hippocampusi are increased in size by them constantly having to remember routes.

    And of course the memory is notoriously fallible, and although I’m not qualified to make a definitive comment on the subject, I seems to me that constantly challenging it can only do good; or so I think I recall being told!

  3. Never trust your memory of ANYTHING. Take pictures.

    I say that only half facetiously. As a person over 50, I have discovered in conversations with family and friends that almost all of my childhood, adolescent, and young adult recollections conflict with theirs. We can’t all be right, but we can all be wrong. And, most tellingly, I find my clearest memories are ones that have been kept alive by photographs. I remember very few childhood experiences, but do recall in good detail those surrounding a given photo taken by my parents.*

    *On reflection, it seems wise for parents to take pictures of their children whenever they accomplish something. It will serve them well in developing self-confidence.

    • In reply to #4 by justinesaracen:

      Never trust your memory of ANYTHING. Take pictures.

      I say that only half facetiously. As a person over 50, I have discovered in conversations with family and friends that almost all of my childhood, adolescent, and young adult recollections conflict with theirs. We can’t all be right, but we can al…

      Take photos and write it down. I used to have an incredible memory and now I’m starting to become concerned. I could recall what people said verbatim. All those stories/details my Grandmother told me about Europe and coming the the US by ship…her siblings…even her birthday, are faded and even gone in some areas. I found a very old vacation photo from when I was 17. It took a while to remember where I took it, but when I did a flood of memories came back. I have some vacation photos from about 12 years ago. I’m not even sure which state it’s from.

    • In reply to #4 by justinesaracen:

      Never trust your memory of ANYTHING. Take pictures.

      I say that only half facetiously. As a person over 50, I have discovered in conversations with family and friends that almost all of my childhood, adolescent, and young adult recollections conflict with theirs. We can’t all be right, but we can al…

      You’re absolutely right, “Take pictures.”.

      I was snapping away like crazy at our daughters Commemoration Day; but not one bloody picture came out!

      Luckily everyone else’s did.

  4. There’s some interesting research Stephen Pinker talks about in “Angels of our better nature”.
    Students were interviewed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 about where they were and what they were doing when it happened. Ten years later they were tracked down and asked what they remembered of that day. Most could not accurately remember where they were or what they were doing. Many had completely forgotten where they were and who they were with and had developed false memories they swore were real.
    Memory is not video tape.

  5. There are many invented ways to remember chronologies and facts and we usually at least remember if an event happened or not…but maybe not all the sketchy details…..anyway we need most of our minds for current functioning so some of us have better memories than others….Autistic people seem to have a photographic memory for facts….so maybe having less emotional connection gives us better memory skills just a guess….

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