Based on research by: Wimber, Maria, Alink, A., Charest, I., Kriegeskorte, N., & Anderson, Michael C. (2015). Written by: Mara Rowcliffe, MS
Did you know that retrieving memories of the past can cause forgetting?
United Kingdom psychology researchers evaluated how specific memories are suppressed while others are strengthened. They monitored brain activation with MRI brain scans in different areas of subjects’ brains as the subjects were asked to remember pictures they had been shown. Subjects repeatedly recalled memories of some images, resulting in these vivid images showing MRI scan activation in the Hippocampus and Visual Cortex. However, remembering these images ultimately led to forgetting other similar thus “competing” images that were not reviewed. The MRI confirmed that patterns were not activated in the prefrontal regions as predicted.
These results suggest that repeatedly questioning crime victims may actually impair or lead to less accurate recall of related yet important details of an event. This may appear as if the memory of the event is poor, when in reality the repeated recall is leading to forgetting important details.
Memory is not perfect. When memories are important for evidence, or working through issues, be careful when interviewing. Write down detailed notes or record interviews to avoid unnecessarily repeating questions that might lead to suppressing other details.
Wimber, M., Alink, A., Charest, I., Kriegeskorte, N., & Anderson, M. C. (2015). Retrieval induces adaptive forgetting of competing memories via cortical pattern suppression. Nature neuroscience, 18(4), 582-589.