Sunday, June 26, 2005

Memory and visual images

"Sometimes we recall our personal past be recollecting a wealth of information about a person or place, other times by just knowing that someone or something is familiar. Psychologists have begun to explore these two forms of subjective experience, which are referred to as remembering and knowing the past. Several studies have shown that recall of visual information about the physical setting or context of an event is crucial to having a "remember" experience. In one, college students were given a beeper that sounded unpredictably several times a day. Each time the beeper went off, they recorded what was happening (except when it sounded at inopportune times). When the students were later asked to remember these events, the episodes they recalled most accurately and confidently included visual images of what had occurred during the episode. The subjective sense of remembering almost invariably involved some sort of visual reexperiencing of an event.

"Why does retrieving visual images tend to make us feel strongly that we are remembering a real event? Part of the reason is that some of the same brain regions are involved in both visual imagery and visual perception. Since we usually rely on these areas to perceive the external world, it should not be surprising that when we use them to create visual images, the images may feel like the mental residue of actual events. These observations have an important implication: creating visual images may lead us to believe that we are remembering an event when the incident never happened. By appreciating that subjective experiences of remembering are enhanced when we conjure up visual images, we can better understand incidents in which people appear to be recalling horrific events that never occurred" (23).

from Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

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