Myths About Memory: Survey Details How Americans Get Memory Wrong

08/04/2011 08:36 am ET | Updated Oct 04, 2011

Think about your most vivid memory for a moment. How did it come to be? Do you, like most people, imagine that your memory is like a video camera, recording events and details so you can come back to them later? Surely if you look back on an event five years from now, you'll recall the same details, right?

No and no, say researchers Daniel Simons, of the University of Illinois, and Christopher Chabris, of Union College. While conducting research for their new book "The Invisible Gorilla," Simons and Chabris asked 1,500 participants to respond to a series of statements about how memory functions.

All the statements were false -- proven so by decades of documented research. But a the majority of participants believed them to be true.

"Even the most educated people in our sample still got less than half of these 'correct,' on average," Simons told The Huffington Post. "This isn't a matter of intelligence."

Just How Confused Are We About Memory?

The slideshow below details the results of the survey, published today in the journal PLoS ONE, and shows just how confused we are about the mechanics of memory.

But why the confusion? Why do we have these misconceptions about the infallibility of our memory?

Part of the problem is that we aren't called out every time something we "know" is actually false, Simons and Chabris say. "We don’t have a press crew following us around, recording our every waking moment," Simons said. "We don’t have proof we’ve been wrong."

And when we remember something vividly -- like, say, where we were when we first heard about the 9/11 attacks -- we recall the memory so easily it never occurs to us we might be remembering incorrectly, Chabris added. This can deceive us, and convince us that what we remember must be accurate.

What Are The Implications?

That we have these misconceptions about memory has implications for our judicial system, the researchers say. According to previous research, when defendants wrongly convicted of a crime were later exonerated by DNA testing, the primary evidence in the original case often came from an eyewitness.

"They probably were really confident in their memories," Simons added. The problem is we don't realize "how big the mismatch is between what most of us see and notice on a daily basis, and what we think we see and notice on a daily basis."

Are you part of the majority with misperceptions about memory? Take the survey for yourself, then see how you compare to those who participated in Simons and Chabris' research.

Six Popular Memory Misconceptions: