Daily Roundup: The Fragility of Memory

When I read the EurekAlert about researchers at Northwestern Medicine who proved that “memory is like a telephone game”, I was a little puzzled. Even more so when I read the line “The Northwestern study is the first to show this.”

I’m a little confused because the first time I read of memory alteration, it was in a Wired article about the ultimate memory pill, which in turn references the work done by Karim Nader years ago. There’s a nice long article by Smithsonian.com which is essentially a profile of Nader’s life and work on this specific aspect.

The work by Northwestern is significantly different, though; for one, it’s conducted on human subjects and not on rats being taught aural cues. But while the Northwestern press release doesn’t refer to a theory of memory reconsolidation, Nader’s work and other research has much more background to support it. I’m not sure if this was simply not referenced in the press release, or if they genuinely were ignorant of the pre-existing work.

Either way, it’s heartening to see that the research is being replicated and the theory borne out by evidence: every time we remember something, at least part of our memory is being reconstructed from scratch. Our memories are never pristine and rarely reliable, which makes me wonder what research exists that compares the protein production of those with normal recall faculties to those with eidetic memory.

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