The one concept that has been etched into my psyche after having been in this class is the one about false memories. Until this Psychology course, I had always assumed that memory, once encoded, would stay true for all time. In fact, it seems completely an odd and wasteful thing for our brains to do - to take what it saw and experienced and to change it. But it does. Most of us will look at the pictures of the pennies above and be fairly certain that the one we pick is how the real penny looks. Chances are extremely high that a good proportion of us will be wrong. Such demonstrations and reading about the pioneering experiments done by Elizabeth Loftus and subsequent ones by Barbara Tversky, Polly Dalton, and Elizabeth Phelps has changed my notions about memory.
The ease with which people can be led to have false memories has such far-reaching implications in everyday life. Feuds are started, grudges are nursed, and enemies are made, as we resolutely hold on to our versions of events in our inter-personal relationships. In a larger context, our criminal justice system makes use of witnesses to help establish the guilt (or lack there-of) of the accused. Whereas scientists have known about false memories for decades, they have regrettably not been too forceful in broadcasting the facts and in changing the practice of using eyewitnesses. It turns out that 75% of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where the witnesses were mistaken about what they saw and/or heard.
I believe that I will take into account false memories for the rest of my life both for things that I remember as well as for other people's remembrances. In addition, whenever I hear about witnesses to a crime, I will know better than to mistake their confidence for their rightness.
Beil, Laura. "The Certainty of Memory Has Its Day." New York Times 29 Nov. 2011: D1+. Print.