Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Picnic Test



I found this YouTube video of a memory experiment by Daniel Schacter, author of The Seven Sins of Memory.  It’s of a picnic scene and Alan Alda is told to keep track of how many times the picnic-ers get up—but that’s not even part of what Schacter is looking for.  Schacter afterwards shows Alda photographs from the picnic, some happened, and some did not.  What the experiment did was attempt to place false memories into Alda’s brain—and it did.  Alda “remembered” objects, such as a nail file and water bottle, that never happened.  The explanation is that memories are not stored in one area, but in many areas.  To recall a memory requires that we take bits and pieces of a scene and put them back together, whether Alda got the memories through the photos or the real picnic scene. 

What do you think of this?  Do you ever have some memories where you aren’t sure if it actually happened or if you just saw it some place?  Do you think it’s possible to collect pieces of memories and piece them back together into something that never happened?

~Emily Vukson

11 comments:

carrie said...

This really relates to Elizabeth Loftus's work on false memories, and how simple suggestions can completely alters one's memories. This idea piecing memories together really makes sense when I think about my memories of my childhood. One particular memory that comes to mind is how my best friend and I met in kindergarten. I don’t truly have a recollection of the event, but I remember something based on what my friend told me. According to Loftus, I am able to piece together a memory because of a reliable source telling me it happened and my ability to connect the event with other memories. Because my best friend claimed the event to happen in a certain way, I believe it to be a true. Also, I can piece together memories of us being in class and playing with blocks, so it’s easy for me to make the connection to what I am being told from her.

http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/sciam.htm

Dominick said...

This is another one of those mind games that cognitive psychologists obviously like to play. I think it's ironic how these things are tested and that we aren't aware of our own brains fabrication. It's because of this obvious disconnection we have with our own brains remanufacturing that makes me not surprised about the people who still believe and argue that the mind and body are separate. But, than again, it really is more implying that our conscious mind is separate from a subconscious mind. That just as we are purposeful in certain ways (as behavorists would argue against) we are completely machine-like in others. Just as a computer who doesn't know it is being programmed to be a efficient ends up being efficient anyway.

Francesca Marina Palombo said...

I have an assortment of memories of homes I have lived in over the years. From birth up until 5 or 6 years old we moved a few times, and then once more when I was 12. I have collected memorial images of those places in my head, and much of it has been mixed together into one large house or bits connected to the wrong house. Certain beds, sheets, toys and chairs seen to float around in memory and land in rooms that may or may not have existed. If I was to stay in the same house my whole life I would have more definite memorial visions of my early surroundings.

Francesca Marina Palombo said...

I also create those images in my dreams as well, and it has reoccurred many times. The same strange place thats a mixture of memory and creation... but with actually furniture I remember and toys etc...

kinda creepy.

Anonymous said...

This also makes me really want to start documenting my life more, so I can have more reliable ways to remember things. I've spoken to some friends about that, and one person suggested that documenting my experiences would really do the opposite of helping me to remember them. The argument there was that by for example taking a photo, that I would be erasing the rich, multi-sensory memory in my head and replacing it with a static and less dimensional image.

JB

cassie brown said...

Once again, I am troubled to consider the idea that the sometimes-precious memories I rely on as a valid source of information, or a file cabinet of experiences, are in any way inaccurate. Even worse than knowing that my recollections may be wrong, is admitting that Schacter’s picnic experiment, and scientific back up of his results, makes actual sense. I understand that memory is malleable, and details surrounding events can often be distorted versions of truth. At this point in research, it is hard to measure false memory without some guesswork. However, the metaphor of the memory being scattered across different parts of the brain based on senses, rather than stored as a whole unit, such as videotape, explains how memories can become more and more inaccurate. Every time a memory is recalled, the pieces fit together differently than before, as the shapes in a kaleidoscope remain the same, yet compose different images.

Cassie

rr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rr said...

To build off of this video segment, I found the following information regarding research on the brains of cab drivers in London. Brain scans done by the University College London showed that the hippocampus was enlarged in cab drivers. The hippocampus has been associated with directions in animal brains. The head researcher, Dr. Eleanor Maguire said, "The hippocampus has changed its structure to accommodate their huge amount of navigating experience." While this does not answer why it is possible for Schacter to “implant” memories in Alan Alda, it certainly gives us clues as to how our brains adapt and change according to our environments. I wonder if prolonged experiments like the one in which Alda has participated could change the structures of the brain as well?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/677048.stm

Megan Fajardo said...

I couldn't help but notice that the nail file and the water bottle were such small things compared to say, a kite or a fishing pole, and the way that this might play into a false memory because of how plausible it is. A fishing pole that is not used and a kite that is not used is easier to remember because when confronted with it in the picture, the association is made that those distinctly weren't there before. The water bottle and the nail file, on the other hand, would probably not cause such big distinctions. At first when Alda sat down to watch the picnic and had to count the number of times they got up, I was reminded of experiments on "selective attention," where the group passes the ball and by paying attention only to the white team, maybe people fail to realize a gorilla coming into the scene. I am curious to know what selective attention can to do memory as well.

Elysia said...

What Francesca said reminds me of 1st person vs. 2nd person memories. I also have distinct memories of my home as a child, which seem like 1st person memories. But as I was only 3 or 4 when we lived in the house I am referring to, it is highly unlikely that I can remember vividly what my home looked like growing up. It is likely due to photographs of my old house, or stories my mother has told me, 2nd person memories rather than 1st person.

yasemin uyar said...

As a response to JB's idea of documenting your life, I agree with his friend, but for another reason. The pictures you have taken might lead to more false memories later when you see them again. Since they reflect only a couple of scenes of the actual event, your mind would be inclined to make up the rest of the story.
But of course, video recording can be solution for a more reliable memory.