The Psychology World Podcast Episode 3- Reliability of Memory


Hello everyone, I hope that you had a great weekend.


Today’s post is on cognitive psychology and the reliability of memory.


This episode was going to be on how memory works and the models of memory that psychology has, however, models of memory is a really dry topic. It's not a boring topic, it's just very, it's got very dry information, so it's quite hard to make an interest because it's just repeating information.


So if you want to know more about memory and how it works. I would recommend looking at my book, cognitive psychology. As instead of telling you models of memory I need to do the more interesting episode because, at the end of the day, I'm doing this to keep you guys interested in psychology.


So reliability of memory is a very interesting topic, I find because I'm sure that we've all noticed at some time or another, the memory's not, isn't always a reliable because if you're out with a friend and something happens and then a few hours later, like your friend tells somebody else about what happened, for example, how you went shopping, or maybe you saw a car accident. You will probably notice that there were slight differences between your memory and what your friend is saying. For example, a personal example, I was out with a friend once, when I was like quite young and we were having sleepover at roughly 6 am his phone went off and then I looked around for the phone, so he could answer it.


A few hours later open. He was telling the person who phoned him, what happened. He described me looking for the phone to give to him where I simply picked up the phone and passed it to him as me frantically looking around for the phone.


So as you can see, there's a clear difference between what actually happened and the memory that this person had.


The theory behind why or why memory isn't reliable I quite like; but I go into more detail in my book is that; is as a result of reconstructive theory because our memories can be reconstructed due to post-event information and each time we retell the memory, the memory itself is reconstructed or changes a little as well as other factors.


However, it doesn't mean that all memories are reliable as demonstrated in our two studies today, for example, our first study, we'll look at how memory is not reliable.


Loftus and Pickerel (1995)

This was a simple short experiment.


One of the reasons why I'm really interested in this topic is because I find it just brilliant, is that even though this experiment is really simple, it really does show how bad memory can be, and a lot of Elizabeth Lotus’s other work is also really in a formative on the subject.

I would definitely look her up if you get a chance. So Loftus and Pickerel (1994) asked the friends and families of the participants for free childhood memories, and then they asked a key question like, have they ever been lost in a shopping mall before? and if the answer was yes, then they weren't accepted into the study.


However, if they never were lost in a mall before then they were accepted into the study. And then what's happened was the researchers posted a memory questionnaire. On this questionnaire, it talks about the 3 childhood memories and the lost in the mall memory.

They've asked to rate how confident they were about the memory and to write as much as they could about it. So the whole idea of this questionnaire was that if the memory wasn't unreliable then the person that should have immediately thought. Well, I've never been lost in the mall before, so this memory is false.


The results showed that 25% of the people believed in the lost in the mall memory but rated it as their least confident memory. Therefore, this shows that false memories can be created and by extension, it does support the idea that memory isn't reliable.


Critical thinking:

However, there was a problem with this study. In fact, there's quite a few. For example, only 25% of people actually believed these false memories. I mean, in that, could this 25% be unique in some cases, or could it be generalized to the population? That memory is unreliable because of this small amount of people.


If you looked at this data exclusively then you probably could not generalize this to the population because 25% is such a small amount of people that got affected by these false memories. So you could probably say that based on this data only a very small amount of the general population can actually be affected by false memories.


This, we know by everyday life and other research to be false. However, it is something to think about.


But another problem with this research is that, well, because the researchers decided to post, these questionnaires to the participant. It does pose the question about whether participants were honest about what they remembered or did they ask friends and family at home?


Away from at the researcher's eyes about the answers. So in reality, the number of people affected by false memories could be a lot higher than 25% as participants could have said: Oh, mum and dad have I've really lost in the mall before? As they did it at home and not in a lab setting.


Researchers can't check this. So it is possible that the findings could be a lot higher in that reality, but because it was done at home, we will never know. So if I was going to redo the experiment and then I'd make sure it was done in a lab setting, so I could only test what the participants remembered.


And then our next study does support the idea that memory is reliable because generally it is as memory can be quite good sometimes.


Yuille and Cutshall (1986)

This was a really good experiment, I thought it was awesome because what happened was that there was a gun store robbery where the owner of a shop was shot twice and a killed and there were 21 witnesses to the murder.


And the reason why the researchers decided on this crime to study was that there was a lot of physical evidence. I mean there was a lot of evidence to cooperate the witnesses stories, meaning that it was easy to tell if the witnesses’ memories were good or bad about what happened.


Therefore, the researchers contacted the 21 witnesses four months after the crime was committed. And then 13 of them signed up for the study and then they've asked 3 questions.

Half of them were asked: Did you see a yellow panel on the getaway car? When it was blue.

And the other half were asked: Did you see a broken headlight on the getaway car? When it wasn’t.


And they were asked were they afraid?


The results showed that when they were asked to recall the event, they were 79 to 84% accurate when compared to old police reports. So when it came to their question about the colour of the car or the headlight condition, 10 out of the 13 were correct.


When they were asked about being afraid. They said that they weren’t afraid but they rushed an adrenaline rush.


Therefore, showing that memory can be reliable because as this study shows the witness's memories were very accurate.


Critical thinking:

This study is very high in ecological validity, meaning that you can apply the findings to everyday life.


A problem with this study is that because this was a one-off event, meaning that you can't repeat the experiment, the findings so that it's unlikely that there would be data to support this specific example again because you can't reproduce it.


And the problem with the last question, the participants said that they were experiencing an adrenaline rush. So I talk about this more in my cognitive psychology book. However, in a short, due to how we process memory and our emotions.


There's a special memory mechanism called: flashbulb memories. Now these can be quite vivid and because of that we tend to remember them more. So the problem with this study is that memory could be quite unreliable. However, the only reason why, because you get these results is that you tapped into this special mechanism instead of the ‘normal’ memory.


So now that we've looked at two different studies that I support memory let’s bring together. So we know that memory can be unreliable because of, reconstruction theory and Loftus and Pickrell (1995) shows us that memory can be unreliable because of false memories.

Whereas: Yuille and Cutshall (1986) demonstrates that memory can be reliable because their findings.


If you want to know more about cognitive psychology then please check out my book on Cognitive Psychology available on Amazon, Kobo and all major online book retailers.



I hope that you enjoyed today’s episode everyone.


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Have a great week!

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