In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal the article “How Inaccurate Memories Can Be Good for You” by Sue Shellenbarger caught my attention. Right out of the gate Shellenbarger says that according to psychologists when you are reminiscing and you do not get the facts of the past exactly correct, it does not matter. She goes on to say that the inaccuracy of recalled facts are as important as recalling accurate facts, because, according to several studies since 2014 it’s more about self esteem than accuracy.
Apparently the basis for these studies are linked to understanding of our long term and autobiographical memory citing that our memories are not just a rolodex of facts, but a blend of facts, fabrication and feelings.
Shellenbarger says that the accuracy of events stored in our memories become misrepresented when people allow imagination to cross over and become part of the facts; combine memories from different events; transform long term memories into short term memories; conform our memories to others belief systems; and alter our memories based on updated information…and all of this is apparently acceptable for the sake of positive self-esteem. In essence Shellenbarger reported that this new memory becomes the new truth.
Seriously? I’m not sure I can agree with this line of thinking.
The brain is complex, no doubt. However, simply because the powers of recall and imagination cohabitate, so to say, in the same region of the brain, that should not make it acceptable to combine fact and fiction to produce new historical data and alter the truth.
Applying this line of thought to a criminal investigation, eyewitness accounts of the crime weigh heavily toward the credibility of the defendant. It is important to obtain eyewitness accounts of the crime as soon as possible in order to corroborate testimony; verify alibis; and provide overall support the case.
Detectives rely on the accuracy of eyewitness facts and not fantasy-fabrication created in ones mind because someone needs more positive self-esteem. Yes, people can change the facts and make themselves believe the new, blended/altered facts as truth; and, even go so far as to beat a polygraph; but, that does not make it right to do so.
Further, Shellenbarger suggests new memories can bring light to past events and help us understand why we acted a certain way. I can go with that as long as the interpretation of those past events does not alter the historical accuracy of the long term memory.
In the big picture truth is what makes a difference in every investigation. What is the basis of your truth?