The 4 Types Of Memory Failures: This Is How Memories Betray Us

Even if we think we remember something well, that piece of memory can be a falsehood.

As the reader may remember from what was seen in the article ” What are false memories and why do we suffer from them? “, There is the possibility of partially remembering an event, conversation or situation, not remembering it or remembering it without having lived it. 

Going deeper into it, there are many types of mistakes that can be made and, it is important to share this information since these mistakes have broken friendships, ignored arguments, created major conflicts and other problems that, without a doubt, anyone will recognize by looking back. .

Memory failures

Next we will see several phenomena that make our memory not as reliable as it may seem.


One of the factors that conditions our memory is stress, understanding this, beyond an overload of work or a worry, as an activation in the alert level that can be given by as many as different situations in which we see ourselves wrapped daily. 

Stress generates a corticosteroid discharge due to the excitation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HHs) axis. (Gómez-González, 2002) that can improve or worsen memory, depending on the processing phase influenced by stress hormones, and the nature or valence (positive or negative) of the encoded information.

Thus, there are numerous investigations that have revealed when stress levels are very high (eg: a heated family or couple discussion: a debate on a very controversial topic on social networks; etc.) emotional memory is preserved or it even improves, while the memory of non-emotional information is affected.

How relevant is this? In a stressful situation such as those discussed in the previous paragraph, it is very likely that not only logic is put aside, but because of this increase in emotional activation, attention (and therefore memory) is focused on the aspects of the discussion, debate or witnessed event that have most aroused negative feelings.

This not only leads to a resolution that is often irrational (understood as lacking a well-structured logic) and premature, but it also contributes to forming negative stereotypes about other people, forgetting aspects such as the coherence of their argument despite their lack of respect, the logic of an idea despite spelling mistakes, the intention of the communicator despite his error when expressing it, etc. Thus, accessing that memory later, these details are practically inaccessible.

More experiences with it, more reliable opinion?

We often believe that the fact of having experienced a situation more times or having had a discussion on a certain topic or with a certain person more times makes us more “aware” of it or gives more reliability to our opinion. However, is that true?

Studies in behavioral sciences have shown that people who have experienced repeated similar situations (ex: event, discussion) with emotional charge, tend to be less reliable than the testimonies of events that have occurred only once, giving worse results in accuracy, integrity and consistency of the story (Smeets, Candel & Merckelbach, 2004).

So why do you feel so much more secure?

The phenomenon of confirmation bias

In psychology there is an extensive study and experiments on the Confirmation Bias. This bias is also known as selective information gathering. It is considered as an effect of information processing that makes people seek to confirm their hypotheses, confirm their expectations, reaffirm their stereotypes or even justify their decisions or lifestyles. Understand stereotype as a pattern of thought, without necessarily being negative (ex: The world is a beautiful place).

This search for confirmation is pre-conscious or non-conscious (although it can be voluntarily avoided if this effect is known) and happens regardless of the truth or falsehood of the information collected.

At the same time, this bias allows the “repetition” of information that was already considered true, making it more stable in one’s own knowledge scheme of the world, of others or of oneself. Information that does not seek to be falsified and that is stored as more true than the previous time it was processed.

Various explanations have been offered for the emergence of the confirmation bias shared by default (although I insist, it can be modulated or overcome) every human being. These explanations revolve around different factors, one of them is the so-called “cognitive economy” by which the brain tends to seek balance and patterns to use the minimum of energy when solving a problem or situation, a question that also partly explains , the formation of stereotypes and knowledge schemes.

The role of emotions in memories

Other explanations have focused more on emotional factors. It is not difficult to think that it is preferable (usually) to be correct than to be wrong, thus, the confirmation bias would allow to avoid the cost or damage that the error entails and, instead of investigating the fact, argument or event in a neutral or scientific way, they are selected the parts that square with the assumption are often magnified and the rest are dismissed or diminished.

A good example of this can be found in deductive reasoning books  or in thought psychology manuals. Where different types of Fallacies are exposed that serve at the same time to discredit arguments, to bias towards their own and to protect themselves from an unwanted change or a damage in self-esteem.

The role of fallacies

Ad hominem fallacy: it consists of taking for granted the falsehood of a statement taking as an argument who has made it. Trying to discredit the person who defends said idea by pointing out a negative characteristic or action of the person, independent of the idea. It should be noted that it is one of the most used fallacies today in the debates that are warmly maintained by social networks regarding current issues

Fallacy tu quoque: It consists of rejecting an argument or considering it false, alleging the inconsistency of the person proposing it. (Ex: How can you talk about corruption if when you ruled, there were also cases?). We know that an idea can actually be good or bad, regardless of whether the person who transmits it is preaching or not by example, however, if the idea does not like it, this fallacy is often used to avoid it.

Thus, the confirmation bias distorts and selects information that is installed in our schemas. These schemes, which have been alluded to throughout the article, in cognitive science are understood as patterns of thought, structured sets of ideas, structure of representation of the world, structure of specific knowledge, mental frameworks of social knowledge, etc.

It is not the object of this article to describe them in detail, it will be enough to comment that they are the main responsible for our expectations.

Cognitive schemas

Weren’t we talking about memory? Yes, and we continue at it. As a compilation, the emotional situation skews attention and memory, the confirmation bias selects parts of the information that benefit the ideas themselves, and these ideas are installed in our memory again in the form of schemas .

These schemes contain stable and variable parts, the more the parts are repeated (confirmed), the more stable they are and, furthermore, they are the cause of our expectations, as they are our knowledge framework.

Thus, with what has been seen in  this article where it was exposed that memory and imagination and projection of oneself and others in the future (expectations) share a neural network, it is clear that if these factors are not taken into account, they feed back until creating a a loop that hardly responds to any logic other than the personal one.

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