What Happened? Alcohol, Lapses and The Malleable Memory

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"Have you ever awoken after a night of drinking not able to remember things that you did or places that you went?" According to a 2002 survey, 51% of students who had ever consumed alcohol reported blacking out at some point in their lives. Alcohol primarily interferes with the ability to form new long-term memories.
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The amygdala and hippocampus are parts of the brain that play distinctive roles in memory, with the amygdala providing the emotional component of memories and the hippocampus the factual experience itself. When alcohol floods the hippocampus, memories stop being recorded even though a person can be interacting in complex ways. Blackouts tend to start at blood alcohol levels of 0.15 percent.

Our memory is complex in how we recall and retrieve from memories too. For example, encoding specificity-- we're more likely to remember something when the conditions present at the time we encoded it are also present at retrieval. This doesn't mean by getting drunk we can remember what was never stored when drunk before. What's interesting is that through suggestibility (leading questions) or misattribution we are susceptible to misremembering events or believing that fictitious events occurred. These aspects of memory make drunken recollections in rape cases difficult for jurors and have proven important in eyewitness practices.

Essentially we are our memories, or our retention of information and experiences over time. But while our memories generally work well and are often accurate, they are malleable, susceptible to distortion, contamination, and other influences. I'm left wondering if in the same ways we are able to influence recalling memories if there are ways psychologists can focus those techniques to help reform patient perspective on negative memories, as a technique for improving perceptions of childhood to help those with low self esteem, depression or other symptoms find stronger identity through memory therapy.

3 Comments

Great media, great summary, great post.

I think it's important for everyone to acknowledge that memory isn't infallible. Especially when it’s important, people tend to “remember” what they want to remember. They can’t actually recall with great detail what happened so they, often unintentionally, come up with they think might have/ want to have happened and pass that off as a recollection. That’s dangerous, especially in a legal trial when a lot is at stake. I’m glad that your article hits upon some of the weaknesses of memory.

I had not thought about the use of potential false memories in regards to cases of such a caliber. I wonder how many people are falsely accused of a charge like rape due to a false memory. I don't even believe there could be a test made to combat the effects of this either. When I began to type this comment I was thinking maybe a brain scan could show some difference in the reading of a false memory, but I do not believe that is the case as I think more about it. Memory no matter if its true or just believed to be is stored in the same part of the brain, so it seems practically impossible to determine a difference.

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This page contains a single entry by marc0271 published on January 25, 2012 5:01 AM.

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