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How do we access our memories?

How do we access our memories?

People are more confident about their flashbulb memories than they are about their ordinary memories (Talarico & Rubin, 2003). Although flashbulb memories are not perfectly accurate, they are at least as accurate as memory for ordinary events. Any event that produces a strong emotional response is likely to produce a vivid, although not necessarily accurate, memory (Christianson, 1992). Or a distinctive event might simply be recalled more easily than a trivial event, however inaccurate the result. It is also possible that greater media attention to major events leads to greater exposure to the details of those events, thus encouraging better memory (Hirst et al., 2009).

MISattrIBUtION Misattribution occurs when we misremember the time, place, person, or circumstances involved with a memory. Source amnesia is a form of misattribution that occurs when we have a memory for an event but cannot remember where we encountered the information. Consider your earli- est childhood memory. How vivid is it? Are you actually recalling the event? How do you know you are not remembering either something you saw in a photograph or a story related to you by family members? Most people cannot remember specific memories from before age 3. The absence of early memories may be due to the early lack of language as well as to frontal lobes that are not fully developed.

An intriguing example of source misattribution is cryptomnesia. Here, we think we have come up with a new idea, but really we have retrieved an old idea from memory and failed to attribute the idea to its proper source (Macrae, Bodenhausen, & Calvini, 1999; Figure 7.28). Consider students who take verbatim notes while conducting library research. Sometimes these students experience the illusion that they have composed the sentences themselves. This mistake can later lead to an accusation of plagiarism. (Be especially vigilant about recording the source of verbatim notes while you are taking them.)

George Harrison, the late Beatle, was sued because his 1970 song “My Sweet Lord” is strikingly similar to the song “He’s So Fine,” recorded in 1962 by the Chif- fons. Harrison acknowledged having known “He’s So Fine,” but vigorously denied having plagiarized it. He argued that with a limited number of musical notes avail- able to all musicians, and an even smaller number of chord sequences appropriate

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