Do you think of your memory like a photograph? A lot of people do. They assume that their memory is perfectly accurate and that all of the details are correct. Once they have a memory, they also assume that it cannot change.
But both of these things can certainly be wrong. Memories can be inaccurate, and they can also be changed numerous times. Studies have found that they are often changed with each recall. This means that every time that you spend intentionally remembering that event could change the details that you remember. You may be unaware of this process.
How could this happen?
Often, the memories are altered by outside information. New details may be added in, and they are then later “remembered” as if they are original details.
For example, perhaps you witnessed a crime. You did not notice the color of the coat that the person was wearing. However, after the fact, you read news stories alleging that the person was wearing a blue coat. The next time you remember this event, you may think about them wearing a blue coat. The time after that, you could actually “remember” that blue coat. It is now part of your core memory that you created, so you think that you honestly saw them wearing the blue coat, even though you had no idea at the time.
Why does it matter?
Things like this are incredibly important for criminal defense cases. Eyewitnesses are often asked for their testimony, but this shows just how frequently they get details wrong. If you’ve been accused of a crime, you need to know about all of your legal defense options.