Schacter_1999 - The Seven Sins of Memory Insights From...

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The Seven Sins of Memory Insights From Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience Daniel L. Schacter Harvard University Though often reliable, human memory is also fallible. This article examines how and why memory can get us into trouble. It is suggested that memory's misdeeds can be classified into 7 basic "sins": transience, absent- mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. The first three sins involve differ- ent types of forgetting, the next three refer to different types of distortions, and the final sin concerns intrusive recollections that are difficult to forget. Evidence is reviewed concerning each of the 7 sins from relevant sectors of psychology (cognitive, social, and clinical) and from cognitive neuroscience studies that include patients with focal brain damage or make use of recently developed neuroimaging techniques. Although the 7 sins may appear to reflect flaws in system design, it is argued instead that they are by-products of otherwise adaptive features of memory. Question: If Vernon Jordan has told us that you have an extraordinary memory, one of the greatest memories he has ever seen in a politician, would that be something you would care to dispute? Clinton: No. I do have a good memory. At least I have had a good memory in my life . . . It's also—if I could say one thing about my memory—I have been blessed and advantaged in my life with a good memory. I have been shocked and so have members of my family and friends of mine at how many things that I have forgotten in the last six years—I think because of the pressure and the pace and the volume of events in a president's life, compounded by the pressure of your four-year inquiry, and all the other things that have happened. When President Clinton testified before Kenneth Starr's grand jury, his numerous lapses of memory prompted in- vestigators to query him about his reputation for prodigious recall. The logic implicit in their question, later articulated explicitly by Starr in his own testimony to the House committee investigating impeachment charges, seems clear: How could someone with such a seemingly excep- tional memory forget as much as Clinton did about the details of his encounters with Monica Lewinsky? Starr's lawyers were, to put it mildly, suspicious about the self- serving aspects of Clinton's failures to recall potentially damning incidents and statements. Although their skepti- cism may indeed be warranted, the contrast between Clin- ton's reputation for extraordinary memory on the one hand, and his claims of sketchy recollections for his encounters with Lewinsky on the other, also illustrates a fundamental duality of memory. I have previously referred to this duality as memory's "fragile power" (Schacter, 1996). The power of memory is evident when one contemplates what the various forms of memory make possible in our everyday lives: a sense of personal history, knowledge of facts and concepts, and learning of complex skills. Because of memory's impor-
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Schacter_1999 - The Seven Sins of Memory Insights From...

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