12/20/2009

Memory Like Wine: T and L's True Lies (a double down special)

Memory, like wine, gets better with time, right? It turns out that our brains are masters at fooling us. We think we’re running things. We think we’re in charge of what we do, who we are, what we think. We reside behind our eyes, and forgive me for going all power ranger on you, we are the power rangers in their zords or megazord, running the machine and fighting the bad guys. Perhaps not quite that far, but it’s not a bad analogy. We think we take in all of our surroundings, that we are attending to all the information around us, but like Psych shows us, we aren’t all Shawn Spencers. We miss most of the stuff going on around us and our brain fills in the rest for us as we go, giving us a seemingly seemless narrative existence that makes sense and satisfies our need for order and explanation.

Memory is, indeed, nothing like fine wine. Skinner and Fernandez (2009) note that faulty memories increase as we age and that the detail of a faulty memory can be quite vivid and detailed. Seriously, it seems real to us. We have all these details in our head; we know it viscerally to be true. How can it not be? How can we possibly be wrong?

The truth is how can we not be wrong?

Toglia, Neuschatz, and Goodwin (1999) note that “it is not uncommon for them to include
details that never happened” (234). In fact, these are “abundant in the eyewitness literature” (234). Man, are we ever screwed. We think we know things that it’s emphatically clear based on numerous studies that we do not in fact know at all. Every semester, every psychology class I teach I spend a class trying to hammer this into my students’ heads: we most emphatically do not remember things accurately. In fact, we change our memory of an event just by pulling it out of storage, dusting it off, and thinking about it. We tuck it away with the new spin all over it, forever altered. Toglia et al. found that the confidence level with which subjects held the false memories to be accurate and true was high and it would appear that true and false memories are encoded similarly. We believe the stories our brains tell us and it never occurs to us, unless we know the science behind it or have spent enough time with older folks, that we might not remember the truth.

It’s bad enough to learn that our hard-earned memories may be factually wrong, although it should help understand why people remember the same event so differently. To then find out that people who suffer from clinical depression are even more likely to remember things incorrectly really ices the cake (Zai-Ting & Mau-Sun, 2009). Do we have a glimpse here, not only of the dangers of group polarization when people join various forums and groups dealing with little-understood disorder like autism or a condition like mitochondrial dysfunction, but also a window into how these parents in their various autism groups end up altering their life histories and their child’s, as well? Need we look any further than the Cedillo’s and the video footage of their daughter before the supposed vaccines that caused her autism to see that people rewrite memories?

Hyman and Pentland (1996) refer to these false memories as “memory construction” and note that there are some decided advantages in people in a community coming together and hashing out an agreed upon memory of past events. Therapy, they note, involves the rewriting of memories so as to make the event less traumatic.

While there may be definite social advantages to rewriting memories (say, like for fitting into a particular group) and while it is undoubtedly unintentional in most, there are decided disadvantages to doing this, especially when the rewritten memories can cause parents to take a course of action that it is not merited based on the reality of the situation. Even worse, though, in today’s internet world where one’s word and one’s reality is placed potentially permanently for the world to see, is that when the rewrite is substantive and ongoing, it looks like lying.

References

Hyman, I. E. and Pentland, J. (1996). The role of mental imagery in the creation of false
childhood memories. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 101±117.

Skinner, E.,& Fernandes, M. (2009). Illusory Recollection in Older Adults and Younger Adults Under Divided Attention. Psychology&Aging, 24(1), 211-216. doi:10.1037/a0014177.

Toglia, M., Neuschatz, J.,& Goodwin, K. (1999). Recall Accuracy and Illusory Memories: When More is Less. Memory, 7(2), 233-256. doi:10.1080/096582199388039.

Zai-Ting, Y., & Mau-Sun, H. (2009). Effects of depressive disorder on false memory for emotional information. Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269), 26(5), 456-463. doi:10.1002/da.20453.

 
True Lies: Folks Can Change Their Minds and Their Memories

Thelma:

Folks, it's a sad day in Stinky Creek for Louise an me as we have ta relate a tale we seen a long time comin of a friend of ours who's done gone down the rabbithole so far he come out the otherside an gone back in. It's a shame, one we been watching perpetuatin, all while a hopin he an his kin would somehow notice they was rewritin history. Ain't worked out that way, though, nosirree bob. They done rewrote it ta suit their ideas now and the group they took ta hangin with.

Now, I'm gonna share this story, and Louise's gonna weave in the tale of Jenny McCarthy of the fartin poopin and indigo child fame an mayhap we'll be able ta share somethin of value, a cautionary tale as it were.

Here in Stinky Creek, ain't none of us above average, no, I reckon we is an anti-Wobegon sort of place. We make do with what we got, but we all admit we got some real obstacles standin in our way. Used ta we'd pony up an get together in a time of need an be of assistance ta each other, help out however we could. Of course, that was for the interwebz and satellite cable came ta our parts of the woods. Shewey, it's been a mess ever since, I gotta tell ya.

Used ta be, folks who had themselves a child with a few extra issues could count on kin an friends ta stand for em, help em out, an ta look with love on tha child. Now ifn it were deemed that tha mom an dad were futzin the job, the preacher an the prinicipal would call on Louise an me ta go round an have a come ta T an L meetin. It's worse than a come ta Jesus meetin for sure is what I am sayin. Jus in case ya was a wonderin.

When the interwebz came around, all of a sudden them parents who mighta reached out ta the community for some ideas went inside and started joing them yahoo groups and doin what came ta be known as the google U degree plan. Tweren't a bad idea in an of itself, but it meant that along with some good info ya was open for some really bad stuff, too.

An that's just what happened ta this young couple that lives down the road some. They had themselves some kiddies, sweet babies, they sure were, but high maintenance an then some. The little girl, well she was high strung, best can be said, but their boy, well, his maintenance was on turbocharge and some of us old-timers knew they were in for a struggle. We felt right bad for the challenges facin this young couple, an we did what we could, but that interwebz was there an appealing. No one likes ta be told a child's got problems an that those problems ain't goin away. Nosirree.
It's a powerfully painful thing ta hear, no doubt. Damn shame. Some folks rally when they hear that an march ahead. Some despair. True enough. Used ta, ya could whoop some sense in ta them folks; they was out an about an ya could keep an eye on them ta whoop some sense in when they started over ta the dark side. Now, they hide in their cubbyholes an go down the interwebz rabbithole.

Louise an I had no choice but ta foller them in, for true. We'd conversate when we could with them ta keep an idea of how things were goin, an at first it seems like they coped okay. They got ta realizin the middle un had some issues that mounted up ta autism, and autism came ta Stinky Creek officially. Most of us looked around an saw autism had always been there; we jus called it strange an eccentric an moved on an around as needed. We believe in cuttin some slack here in Stinky Creek since ain't none of us above average, if ya ken me. We is an acceptin bunch.

Now this sweet young family weren't havin much of that. It struck em powerful hard an they had the new satellite cable ta get ta the interwebz an off they went a researchin. They heard about this diet, raved about it, bitched alot cuz good luck in Stinky Creek gettin nature food stuff. We are a meat and taters kinda people with a lot of biscuits an gravy, too. So,when they started sayin skip the biscuits an gravy for the little un, we all looked at em like they'd gone over the bend. An they started tellin us about somethin about wheat and dairy and gettin high. About these yahoo groups where ya could exchange info an stuff an find out where ta get the cardboard bread and the tater or rice milk. Done tried some of that stuff. Shewey. Ain't tasty is what I am sayin.

Louise an I had no choice but ta go to google U, too, ya know, as the unofficial matrons an asskickers of the community, it fell ta us ta keep up with what the young folks were doin. We were on all sorts of groups before we knew it. Groups for plushies. Groups for ultra fems. Groups for cardboard food. Groups of all sorts, just a readin away ta pass the time. Even passed some on over ta Mamma H ta keep her out of our booze an smokes.

It gave us lots ta talk about, helped us keep relatin, let us know what was goin on in our community behind closed doors. Wooo-ey, some of the groups our neighbors belong ta will cross your eyes an make ya smile. Uh-huh. See them in the check out stand at our market an jus grin a big one. Louise can tell ya all about it, enough ta fill volumes. Led ta her creatin her own yahoo support group for forlorn seniors lookin ta jazz up their love lives. Sure did.

We followed this nice young couple around, an at first it was just the mama out there, really, lookin for more cardboard recipes ta share with us. Learned ta smile an not try ta swallow, dry stuff. Really cardboard is better. We peaked in, thinkin if we could spruce up them recipes that baby'd be happy, an since Louise an I run the church nursery (church is about the community here, huns, an good atheists that we are, how can we not play with the babies while mom an dads visit), well, we could honor the wishes of the sweet family.

From there, though, the story got interestin, it did, as the years unfurled an the diet stayed cardboard an more stuff was added in. An the child stayed the child, sometimes better, sometimes not, as kids are wont ta do. The mama started ta hear about the vaccine thing, an her mad started ta get on as they had something ta hold onto. Mercury poisonin came up an they talked about a cure. They went from thinkin about their child one way, their past one way to a complete rewrite. Now, Louise an I aren't quiet, an at first we'd cock our eyebrows at em an ask em what the hell they were up to, but it didn't do no good. No, we knew that light in their eyes an there wasn't no turnin them aroun. Mama had an answer and daddy latched onto it tight an fierce and from there on out the reasonin with him was done an gone. He was a true believer.

The community here, an it's a good one, well, it fell down on the job as the world turned an changed an folks became tied ta their interwebz and satellite cable. Pretty soon we couldn't even talk about the same things, cuz we all had a hundred different channels an we could indulge ourselves. Gotta where we realized we didn't have ta put up with Tom, Dick and Harry's bullshit anymore just cuz we lived in close proximity, so it got ta where we weren't talkin about shit together any more, neither, nor makin allowances. We got ta where we could ignore each other like we didn't exist. Even got ta where we could watch our preachin on the tube an not have ta go to church where we could tune out the preacher an focus on who was schtoopin who an who wanted to.

We had ta get more clever ta keep up with that family, but we did it, we managed it. Mama got involved with her brood an let a lot of that anger wash right out, focused on tryin ta make her babies as happy an whole as she could. Sides, she couldn't get the computer away from daddy. Nosirree, he'd found a place ta get in word fights an have his say an folks who'd encourage his special brand of mad, and even better folks who'd egg it on. Ain't nothin like an opposition ta keep ya fired up an ready ta go, can I get an amen an a attaboy? An Louise an I sat on the sidelines and watched that man's story morph inta somethin we couldn't even begin ta recognize. That group he found fed him, rewarded his anger, an it got ta where we were catchin him in a lie damn near every week. Course the man was so mad by now, tellin him he was inconsistent as hell an changin his tune every which way didn't do any good except ta get us uninvited ta their home,

Hard ta whoop some sense into someone if ya cain't get near him. The thing is, we ain't sure either one of them really kens that the story they is livin now ain't the story they actually lived. We ain't sure they know he's lied at all, if they altered their memories ta suit their new way of thinkin the way we is all tempted ta do. Once we believe somethin, we cain't never undo it an remember, really remember what it was ta feel different. If ya ever been through a break up, ya know what I mean.

Here's what Thelma's gonna say, though, an it bears hearin an hearin well, about rewritin your history: best ta member that if ya are intentional in your rewritin, it would be smart ta bear in mind where ya do that rewritin where ya cain't undo it. Some places on the interwebz is forever an your words long outlive your belief system and can come back to roost, if ya ken me an ken me well. Ifn ya shifted unintentional, ya best ta be lookin over where ya been ta see where your story changed an ask yourself was that on purpose an how'd I get here where I am now from where I started an mayhap start eatin some crow ta get back ta the truth of it. Cuz, here be the truth, there are people out there, hons, who member what they seen, member where they seen it an know the truth of it as it all changed. An ifn we gets ta thinkin ya is lyin intentional, wooo-ey, is it ever a come to Thelma an Louise meetin of the purse.

If ya ken me, is what I'm sayin.

Louise:
Thelma my gal, ya done said it all. The rewritin a history is a dangerous thing in these here interwebz times. Why ya got folks sayin one thing and three months later ya got em sayin another. I'ma thinkin they all do it ta get themselves some "maximum attention". Reminds me a that bosom enhanced gal who made herself a livin a tootin on t.v. Now I don't reckin most folk remember back when she were callin herself an "Indigo mom", sayin her son was a "crystal child" an such. Y'all can read about it here

http://www.childrenofthenewearth.com/free.php?page=articles_free/mccarthy_jenny/article1

That's right...Ol Miss fussy bosoms was all about changin the schools and cleanin up the enviornment and what not. So what do y'all reckin happened? A whole lot a nothin! So she changed her story. Her son was no longer a prettty crystal, but a child with the autism. Well hell, lots a folks got autism, not much new there, so she changed her story agin! It's the vaccines, its tha mercury, it's tha big pharma companies hurtin our kids! Well that good folks, got her lots 'o attention. Got her on Larry King, got her bigger book deals, and speakin arrangements, an just like tha pied piper (cept she tootin from her behind) she's got lots a people a followin. Includin our neighbor folks. Funny iffen y'all look back on all they wrote in tha beginnin, y'all would think it was a different child tween then an now. It makes ya wonder why. Attention? Acceptance? Inclusion? Or just an excuse to be so dang angry all tha time.

I have ta tell y'all...I was mighty disappointed in our neighbors after readin their old posts an such. Me and my gal Thelma embraced 'em with kindness and understandin. I'm hopin it wasn't a mistake. I'm hopin they'll go back and look at all they have posted and realize that maybe, just maybe they got so caught up in tha anger, they lost tha facts. Cause I'd hate ta think they twisted tha truth on purpose. Me and Thelma, we like ta believe tha best a folks, we don't like bein lied to. It gives us heavy hearts, an even heavier pocketbooks iffen ya ken me.

Now I gotta get on over to tha senior center. I'm givin a speech tonight " Just cause ya wear "supp hose" don't mean your stocking shouldn't be stuffed" Y'all have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannakah, a wonderful Kwanza, or just a good week.

1 comment:

davidbrown said...

Random, but I think on a broadly similar theme: I had an idea for a new "fan fiction" story this weekend: A cyborg is sent back in time to assassinate Archduke Ferdinate, then must resolve what to do when Gavrilo Princip assassinates him first.