By: A. Thiollier
Do you remember a time when you were very scared? Sad? Nervous? Maybe you are remembering it wrong. The way you feel during a certain moment can completely alter the way you remember it later. So, what if it didn’t happen the way you think it did? Could you have false memories of something you really care about? Is it possible you remember something that never even happened at all?
Let’s backtrack a bit, and get back to one of the key points: what even are memories and emotions? Memories, very simply placed, are the way you personally remember something you have experienced. There are two types of memory, short term, relating to remembering something for a short period of time, and long term, relating to recalling events way after they happened. Both can be affected by emotions, creating false memories. Which leads to the second character in this article: emotions. Emotions are the big mystery in mammals in humans. They are the result of hormones in our minds, which alter the very way we feel. They can be so powerful that they can cause us to act irrationally, overpowering the rest of our brain and ruling our choices. And the subject of this particular article is how they control our memories.
As was said before, there are two key branches of memory. Unsurprisingly, emotions are capable of affecting both. In short term memory, emotions can make you remember better. For example, after having experienced a sad or scary event, you may be able to remember the details of said happening way better than you would if you were having a normal afternoon. This was discovered by scientists at university when they conducted a study where they showed emotional images to some volunteers before being shown neutral images while the other group was shown the regular ones first. 6 hours later both teams were quizzed on the unbiased images and those shown these after the emotional ones remembered better. So, for a short period of time after the emotion is presented, your memory would be sharpened into super mode. So, my advice is: before a test, watch a horror movie then look over your notes! Who knows? It could be a grade saver.
But for the long-term memories it’s the opposite. Instead of having your memories sharpened and more reliable, emotional trauma can actually make this branch of memories less accurate. When you experience something scary or very unpleasant, something called a false memory may be created. A false memory could be a real happening that is just different in your mind, or it could be a completely fabricated story that you would be convinced happened to you. Before, people thought that this tendency of false memories was higher in children, however, a more updated study states that it is significantly higher in adults. This is a major issue in court cases with few eyewitness statements of upsetting occurrences because these few people could be confused as to what really happened. Is it then smart to trust the witness?
It’s very interesting to think about what a powerful and curious effect emotions have on our memory. While short term memory is heightened, long term memory is distorted by the very way you are feeling on that day. On important dates we seem to remember what we did way better than on regular days like last Tuesday. Although humans have the tendency to think that our brains are stronger than our emotions, and we can control them if we try hard enough, what if that’s not true? What if it's really our emotions that rule our brains?