Monday, 8 August 2011

Do you know it, or do you think you know it?

Have you written down your memories, or recorded those of your ancestors? A recent study published in the Public Library of Science indicates we should treat that information with caution.

What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population, by Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris shows that popular belief about memory often conflicts with expert opinion. While we may believe in the veracity of information we recall the study shows our belief may not be well founded.

According to the study 78% of us believe that unexpected objects generally grab attention, 63% believe memory works like a video camera, and 55% of that memory can be enhanced through hypnosis. 48% believe that memory is permanent.

Most important for family history, 37% believe the testimony of a single confident eyewitness should be enough to convict a criminal defendant (to be taken as the truth). The article points out that "When people are wrongly convicted of crimes and later exonerated by DNA testing, the primary evidence often came in the form of a confident, but faulty, eyewitness identification."

Our recollections, and those recorded by our fondly remembered ancestors, are not fact, they're evidence.

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