Memory Faults – from the Seven Sins of Memory

Our memory isn’t perfect and suffers from a number of common faults. Daniel Schacter, a professor and former chair of Harvard University’s Psychology Department is a respected leader in memory research and created a book called ‘The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers’ (ISBN 0-618-21919-6) which details these faults.

These factors are seen as something we should work towards fixing to be able to use our memory effectively. Although these faults are unwanted, Daniel does argue that they do serve a purpose and can be divided into two types and seven factors. The two types are omission and commission; omission is the inability to recall something and commission is where something has been changed or added.

  • Omission Type
    • Transcience
    • Absent-mindedness
    • Blocking
  • Commission Type
    • Misattribution
    • Suggestibility
    • Bias
    • Persistence


Transcience

This is where your memory apparently gets weaker or disappears over time, as if it decays. For example you remember yesterday better than you remember last month and the further you go back in time the more is lost. This rate decays exponentially; most of the memory loss occurs right after the experience and the rate of loss slows down over time.

Absent-mindedness

This loss is because we were not paying attention in the first place and so the memory wasn’t recorded, like when you forget where you put your keys.

Blocking

This is the much like the moment you cannot recall something, you know that you do know it but cannot quite reach it – as if it is at the tip of your tongue. The brain is trying to recall it but something is blocking it.

Misattribution

This is where you mistake the source of the information. An example is where you might hear something on the television but later you recall it as something that someone at work told you. It is a well-known problem in the legal system, where the source of information is important in identifying a fact.

Suggestibility

This is where your memory although stored correctly is affected by possibly a leading question, a comment or suggestion that will change what is being remembered. This change in recall again is a well-known issue in the legal system, when evidence is being asked of a witness, hence the phrase of the witness being led.

Bias

This is remembering things differently from your past according to how you feel or what you now believe.

Persistence

This fault comes from simply not wanting to remember, such as a disturbing incident or information. We filter out these possibly traumatic memories.

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