At present the UK seems to have ground to a halt because of a signifiant amount of snow. Immediately people try to calibrate and quantify how bad it is – for example I was telling my son about when I was taken to school in a pram because the snow was so deep. But how accurate are our memories? Clearly in my example I was around 6 years of age so my size and my construct of the world would be different to an adult. However when I recall and play that journey to school through my mind I am just not so sure how much of my mental imagery is true.
The reliability of memories is a classic area of psychology and many studies have shown adults doctored photographs of themselves as children – with the outcome of adults saying that they could vividly recall the event. The classic one that springs to mind is the hot air ballon example where adults could describe seeing the trees looking tiny and the wind in their faces – yet they had never been in a hot air ballon.
This uncritical acceptance of memory recall is based upon a popular misconception of how memory works. Scientific America report that many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. However, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California.
So is the snow as bad as the last big snow fall – well this is all relative. We all change -we may now have a 4×4 and better roads. In addition our memory of long hot summers and snowy winters may be partly self constructed and completely unreliable.