Saturday, 27 October 2012

What people believe about how memory works

By Daniel J. Simons, Christopher F. Chabris
Department of Psychology, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, USA.

Incorrect beliefs about the properties of memory have broad implications: The media conflate normal forgetting and inadvertent memory distortion with intentional deceit, juries issue verdicts based on flawed intuitions about the accuracy and confidence of testimony, and students misunderstand the role of memory in learning.

We conducted a large representative telephone survey of the U.S. population to assess common beliefs about the properties of memory.

Substantial numbers of respondents agreed with propositions that conflict with expert consensus: Amnesia results in the inability to remember one's own identity (83% of respondents agreed), unexpected objects generally grab attention (78%), memory works like a video camera (63%), memory can be enhanced through hypnosis (55%), memory is permanent (48%), and the testimony of a single confident eyewitness should be enough to convict a criminal defendant (37%).

This discrepancy between popular belief and scientific consensus has implications from the classroom to the courtroom...