Tag Archives: 1970s

Memories Not So Reliable After All

Paper trails and electronic logs are all well and good, but it’s eyewitness testimony that really seals the deal.

But it probably shouldn’t be the case.

New research is showing that the human memory is a lot less like a reliable camera recording everything that happens and then transcribing it back unchanged and a lot more like a game of telephone with a bunch of drunks passing the information along down the line. Although that might be a bit insulting to the drunks.

Elizabeth  Loftus is a cognitive psychologist and expert on the malleability of human memory. You might remember her from the hullaballoo her work has caused in the past. Or maybe not.

Her first big foray into the public consciousness was when she began researching car wrecks in the early 1970s. She would show video of car collisions and then ask questions of the viewers. Even though they saw the same thing, the subjects certainly didn’t see the same thing.

Their answers depended greatly on how she phrased the question. For instance, if she asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other, people estimated, on average, that the cars were going 7 mph faster than when she substituted the word “hit” for “smashed.” And a week after seeing the video, those who were asked using the word “smashed” remembered seeing broken glass, even though there was none in the film.

When she asked the subjects about “a broken headlight,” only a few remembered seeing one, even though there were no broken headlights before the collision. When she asked about “the broken headlight,” people were much more likely to misremember it as being present.

In the mid 1990s, Loftus again bloomed in the public eye when her research showed the hazards and pitfalls of believing in the truth of repressed memories. Those are memories that are so traumatic that the person pushes them down and completely forgets about them. Until a skillful therapist begins working with them and bringing the truth out.

It was Loftus’ contention, backed by research, that these memories were, rather than being repressed by the patient, actually being created by the therapist.

“I don’t think there’s any credible, scientific support for this notion of massive repression,” Loftus says. “It’s been my position that, you know, we may one day find (the evidence), but until we do, we shouldn’t be locking people up.”

There’s even some current talk about how dudes can learn to lose weight by using false memories. In the past, Loftus has caused people to create false memories of getting sick from eating strawberry ice cream as a child. This has caused the folks to swear off the sweet stuff. Could we use that to help our adult selves, or even growing selves, rethink how we approach food?

It’s some really fascinating stuff. The CNN article where I found most of this stuff has some more great information in it, including a fascinating discussion on whether or not people would choose to take a drug that would demolish a highly traumatic memory. Go read it. Definitely worth your time.


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Just How Old Does He Think We Really Are?

So, there I was sitting in a classroom full of third graders at Awesome Elementary School.

Now, this classroom is run by an appallingly good teacher. I say appallingly because watching her in action makes me realize how very far I have to go if I even want to be considered in the same solar system with her.

Anyway, self-loathing aside done.

She was in the process of reading to the class a wonderful updating of the gingerbread man (“Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” Yeah, that one. ) fable written and drawn by Jan Brett. The book is called Gingerbread Baby and it’s absolutely wonderful.


The book is beautifully painted, with intricate drawings showcasing fully realized characters in a charmingly rustic setting.

If it wasn’t being read to a class full of students who would have pounded me if I did what I wanted, I would have snatched that book away from the teacher and simply lingered over each sumptuous page.

Just lovely stuff.

Anyway, back to the setting.

It’s obvious from looking at the story that it takes place in the past. The house is located up in the mountains during winter and there is no one else around. It looks like  a sort of alpine farm. The house is obviously a log cabin of sorts and the clothing looks like it came from at least early in the last century, possibly the century before that.

So the teacher asked her class about that setting, knowing that it was set far in the past and figuring that she would get an answer similar to what she was expecting. Her expectations were only moving toward confirmation when she called on a whip-smart young dude named, for our purposes, Raul.

“It was done a long time ago,” Raul said.

“That’s right, Raul. So what–”

“A long time ago, probably in the 1980s or maybe even the 1970s.”

I’m just glad I wasn’t drinking my carbonated caffeinated beverage of choice at the time or I would have spit it all over the classroom.

The teacher, who is much, much younger than I am, still got a good laugh out of it.

We’d forgotten, you see, that time, to a young dude like that, is a very personal thing. If something happened in the past, then, to him, it’s the past of which he can conceive. To him, 40 years ago, is a very long time, indeed.

Even though I slunk out of the classroom a bit chastened, at least I learned something good: Jan Brett made a wonderful book that I will purchase for my own library.

Now if I can just find young dudes or dudettes who will sit still long enough for me to read it to them.

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Sunday Serenade: Come Monday

by Richard

Just say the words come Monday and we’re all on the same page.

“Come Monday” is one of Jimmy Buffett’s, as he puts it, 2.4 hit songs. Despite a decades-long career, many, many albums and a whole boatload of really good concerts, it’s pretty much true. People don’t know much more songs by one of the original dudes than this and “Margaritaville.” Sad, really.

Can you tell I’m a huge Buffett fan?

Well, yeah, I am.

Anyway, this here’s a great time-capsule of a video. Direct from the 1970s, we get to see Jimmy’s huge mustache and lots of other questionable fashion choices that made so much sense back then.

So, let me get out of the way so you can enjoy some good Buffett.

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