Memory plays a significant and pervasive role in the daily lives of human beings. Most of the time, people rely on their memories in order to carry out daily tasks such as recollecting events, remembering things that they like or dislike, recalling appointments and errands, and gaining new knowledge for specific purposes. However, there are many instances when people take memory for granted until such time that forgetting and distortion takes place, leading humans to trouble. The errors in human memory has gained wide acknowledgement over time, and in this regard, such perspective has eventually occupied a certain area within the society, most especially for a certain sector of population. As the public becomes more aware of the horrors of memory malfunctions, the prospect of further understanding the phenomena is also increasing in order to develop broad understanding of the said view (Schacter, 2002). Hence, it is an imperative to discuss the malfunctions of human memory which according to David Schacter (2002) can be divided into “seven fundamental transgressions or sins, [which are] transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence” (p. 4). Much like the traditionally known seven deadly sins, the sins of the memory frequently take place in a human’s daily life and can cause serious trouble (Schacter, 2002).
The first three sins which are transience, absent-mindedness, and blocking are known as the sins of omission, wherein human memory fails to get acquainted to a desired fact or basically involves forgetting.
Sins of Omission
Transience is characterized by the gradual loss of one’s memory. Over time, an individual’s access to a particular memory is reducing. A certain degree of such occurrence can be observed among aging individuals. However, the extreme form of such sin can be the result of the decay or damage in ones’ hippocampus and temporal lobe (American Psychological Association [APA], 2003).
One example cited by Schacter (2002) in his book was that of former President Bill Clinton’s memory lapses during the heated investigation over Lewinksy-Clinton affair investigation (cited in Murray, 2003). During the hearings, Clinton claimed that there were instances when he could not remember the things that they did the previous week (Schacter, 2002 cited in Murray, 2003).
An individual attended the birthday party of her acquaintance’s sister whom she has not met before. Several days later, in another event, the individual noticed a woman laughing with a group of ladies. The curious individual then asked her acquaintance about the woman. Her friend, surprised about her question, told her that the woman she was referring to was her sister.
The sin of transience can leave an individual feeling embarrassed. Likewise, transience can be troublesome because a person has the tendency to forget important matters other than a person he or she has once met such as a meeting set for the day, a phone number of a client, and the likes.
Absent-mindedness is the sin of omission characterized by the loss of memory resulting from one’s failure to pay attention to carry out a specific act. It often takes place during the memory’s stage of encoding or retrieval. Basically, the memory of humans has an adaptive feature wherein selective information is encoded while avoiding storing useless information. Absent-mindedness occurs when a person is unable to redirect his or her attention to the things that is needed to be remembered later (Pascal, 2009).
Schacter’s (2002) example involves the cellist Yo-Yo Ma (cited in Haraburda, 2007). In 1999, Ma forgot his cello worth $2.5 million in a New York cab trunk. Preoccupied by other things, Ma forgot to remind himself to ask the driver to get his cello from the trunk (Schacter, 2002 cited in Haraburda, 2007).
Other notable examples include day dreaming during lectures, forgetting where one placed his or her car keys or other important things such as checkbooks, etc.
While many people are prone to forget important duties, the insufficient attention of an individual during the time of memory encoding can result in one’s inability to recollect details that are important. Because there are many people who rely on routine activities, attentional lapses may end as “the virtual absence of recollection” wherein the individual does not elaborate on the things that is going on around him or her (Schacter, 2002, p. 46).
Blocking is another sin of omission characterized by the memory’s ability to process various information about a specific word, yet it is unable to retrieve or say the word itself. In this case, the person may know the information behind the word such as its meaning, syllables, or sound, but the person is unable to retrieve the word. This is often associated with the phenomenon known as “tip-of-the-tongue experience.” More often than not, the experience is coupled with a strong feeling of knowing the specific word that is right on the edges of one’s thought (Haraburda, 2007).
Being unable to recall names of people or certain words such as the case of British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. During an interview, one of the reporters asked Prescott regarding the terms of payment of the government for the Millennium Dome. Prescott had a hard time retrieving the word “lottery” and used the word “raffles” instead (Murray, 2003).
Such occurrence may put a person in an embarrassing situation especially in terms of retrieving another person’s name. It is noteworthy that forgetting someone’s name is considered as a rude action (Pascal, 2009).
Contrary to the three sins of omission which mostly involve forgetting, the sins of commission which are misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence involve memories that are either unwanted or incorrect (Schacter, 2002).
Sins of Commission
Misattribution involves associating memories with incorrect sources or an individual’s belief that he or she has heard or seen something that he or she has not really heard or seen (Murray, 2003).
Making a fantasy out of reality, incorrectly associating a trivia to a friend that the individual actually read from a book (Schacter, 2002).
Such sin has a great impact on the legal setting. Misattribution may result in the unreliability of an eyewitness’ testimony and may associate the crime with an innocent person. Creating false memory is also a major drawback for misattribution (Haraburda, 2007).
Refers to recollections that were implanted through suggestions, comments, and questions during a process when the person is trying to recall past experiences without having a real basis (Schacter, 2002).
· Being asked by another person to remember a particular event that never really existed.
· Planting false or misleading information through suggestion to children.
According to researches, suggestibility often occurs during emergency situation and in the courtroom settings. When this happens, there is a large possibility that information gathered from witnesses or the people involved is unreliable which may end up in wrong convictions (Smith-Bailey & Ditmann, 2003 cited in Murray, 2003).
Bias pertains to the distortion of memories as a result of reflecting on current knowledge or set of beliefs and perspectives. More often than not, individuals edit or rewrite their whole experiences in order to adapt to what they currently believe in (Schacter, 2002).
· Four people, young child, emotional child, adolescent, and intellectual, watched the movie The Wizard of Oz. The young child will describe the movie by telling the story without sorting it in chronological order. The emotional child may perceive the movie as scary due to the existence of witches and wizards. The adolescent will focus on the movie’s special effects, while the intellectual will explain the themes behind the movie. In this regard, it is evident that what people will remember the most about a single object presented would be based on their own assessment (Haraburda, 2007).
· Remembering the bad qualities of the person the one dislikes rather than the good qualities of that person (Pascal, 2009).
Basically, bias impairs one’s own judgment. There are instances when the decision being made by the person is affected by his or her interest.
Persistence refers to a distortion of memory wherein disturbing memories that need to be forgotten are still recalled by the person despite the fact that the person prefers to banish the said memories. As Schacter (2002) puts it, persistence involves “remembering what we cannot forget, even though we wish that we could.”
Recurrent nightmares of an accident or other traumatic experiences
Disappointing examination result
For extreme cases of people suffering from depression or traumatic experiences, the existence of persistence is said to be disabling and may even become life-threatening (Schacter, 2002).
Apparently, despite the many benefits that can be derived from human memory, its imperfections through the embodiment of the seven sins of memory can bring about negative impacts that can greatly affect human actions. Although there have been continuous researches in order to further understand memory flaws, being able to consider it as a major health concern is one of the best solutions to prevent or minimize their harmful effects.
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Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Haraburda, S. S. (2007, January-February). The “seven sins of memory”: How they affect
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