“Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty Memories of past dishonesty is distressing, so the brain shuts them down
CREDIT: TELEGRAPH Henry Bodkin 16 MAY 2016 • 8:20PM
People are prone to repeat dishonest acts because the human subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of unethical behavior, scientists have found.
Fiddling expenses, cheating the taxman and even extramarital affairs are all less likely to be remembered than virtuous acts because of the phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”, according to researchers at Harvard and Northwestern Universities.
Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca GinoPublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study explains how the brain actively adopts strategies to avoid remembering instances of bad behavior in order to avoid psychological distress.
These include “re-coding” previous actions by subconsciously dehumanising the victims of dishonesty.
Additionally, many of the participants in the study were found to be operating a “double-distancing” mechanism, whereby they judged other people’s transgressions more harshly than their own, allowing them to view themselves in a more virtuous light.
Subjects were randomly tasked with writing about either an unethical or an ethical past experience.Their answers were then assessed against characteristics of memory such as clarity of detail and how well the subject remembered their feelings at the time of the act.
The results showed that individuals’ recall of their own past unethical acts were less vivid than memories of their ethical acts.
Participants were also asked to take part in a coin-tossing game where they were able to lie in order to win more money.
Their subsequent recall of the game was far less accurate than that of the dinner they enjoyed together later that day.
This unethical amnesia means people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time, wrote lead authors Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino.
The stories behind the science about the bits in between your memories.
For some, a certain song or smell makes them feel postively nostalgic while for someone else it reminds them of a love lost.But a new study has shown people can intentionally forget past experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.
The findings could help in the development of new educational tools, or even help to diminish harmful memories, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Theorists have known since the Ancient Greek era the importance of context in retrieving our memories, such as being reminded by a particular person, sight or smell.
But the team from Dartmouth and Princeton wanted to find out about whether memories could be intentionally forgotten.
To do this, they scanned the brains of participants using MRI technology to track the thoughts related to memories’ contexts, while putting a new twist on the traditional psychological research technique of having subjects memorise and recall a list of unrelated words.
In the new study, researchers showed participants images of outdoor scenes, such as forests, mountains and beaches, as they studied two lists of random words.
A teaspoon of PEANUT BUTTER helps detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Researchers at the University of Florida have found that patients lose sense of smell in their left nostril faster than their right
Peanut butter was used as a ‘pure odorant’ in tests to determine loss of sense of smell
Test subjects had all been diagnosed already, but the study revealed that one day smell may be used to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s
By Helen Briggs
When Louise was three, her mother Zoe, who was then 29, was diagnosed with dementia. She is now 42, and living in a care home unable to walk or talk.
Zoe is one of the 17,000 people in the UK living with “early-onset dementia”, which is defined as cases diagnosed before the age of 65.
For Zoe’s family, the first signs something was wrong came when Louise and her sister were on holiday with their grandmother.
While they were away, another relative noticed Zoe – clearly confused – out in the park searching for her children.
Louise’s grandmother, Julie, says she still misses the everyday moments she can no longer share with her daughter – going shopping or a day at the beach.
“It’s one of the worst diseases going,” she says. “It’s all been wiped away.”
After being in and out of hospital for some time, Zoe was eventually diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Doctors could not say why it had happened to someone so young.
“Right at the outset, when she was first diagnosed, they said unfortunately sometimes these things happen,” says Julie.
“They’re like a one-off and Zoe’s the one-off.”
Zoe managed to live with her daughters at the start of her illness, but soon became too ill to cope.
She now lives in a care home in Ashford, and is on a special early onset ward, where she is by far the youngest person.
Louise was only a baby when Zoe became ill, so has few memories of living with her mother.
But she now raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, and recently took part in one of the charity’s Memory Walks. She hopes research will help prevent the same thing happening to another family.
“I can’t help my mum now it’s too late – there’s nothing anybody can do to help her. But if it means I can help other people then it’s worth it.
“It’s also to raise awareness. When I meet new people and I tell them how my life is, and I explain my mum’s got dementia, no-one I’ve met has ever really known what it is and how it affects people.”
The family is also having to cope with dementia striking again.
Julie’s mother Ruby, 85, was found to have Alzheimer’s five years ago, and is now in a care home.
She was diagnosed after slipping out of the house at night and walking several miles along the local canal.
Julie – who has therefore seen both her daughter and her mother battle the disease – now focuses on supporting her granddaughters.
“The miracle we’ve been waiting for, hoping to happen hasn’t happened,” says Julie.
“When the girls were little and asking, ‘Why is mum ill and when will she get better?’ we just had to say, ‘We’re hoping for a miracle’.
“We haven’t got our miracle, so perhaps we can help in other ways.”
Early onset dementia
People diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 are often described as ‘younger people with dementia’ by health and social care professionals
Other terms used include ‘early onset dementia’, ‘young-onset dementia’, and ‘working age dementia’
In the UK, an estimated 17,000 people under the age of 65 are living with dementia
This number is likely to be an under-estimate, and the true figure may be up to three times higher
To be diagnosed at a young age is very rare
Getting an accurate diagnosis of dementia can take a long time for younger people, often due to lack of awareness that dementia can happen in younger people
Anyone worried about any problems with memory, at any age, should consult their GP
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
If you’ve ever witnessed the under-the-table fumbling that breaks out during pub quizzes you’ll know how smartphones are affecting our ability to remember information. Who bothers to remember things like the make of James Bond’s car in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ or the name of the flower-devourers in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ anymore? And why should we? What use could information like that be anyway?
According to a recent study though, our Google enhanced memory may have more serious long term consequences in a condition known as ‘Digital Dementia’. Doctors have found that persistent smartphone use can result in the sort of deterioration in cognitive ability that’s more often associated with patients suffering from head injury or psychiatric illness.
South Korea, epicentre of last year’s plague of Gangnam Style, is one of the most networked nations on Earth where 64.5 percent of teenagers own a smartphone. This year the country has seen a surge in cases of cognitive deficiency among young people. Apparently, many have become so reliant on digital technology they are no longer able to remember simple information such as their phone numbers.
Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper, ‘over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain. Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped’.
The left side of the brain is generally associated with rational thought, numerical computation and fact finding, but the right side of the brain is the centre of creativity and concentration. Its underdevelopment can affect attention and memory span as well as emotional development, especially in children whose brains are still growing.
If the right brain remains under developed in the long term, it may lead to the early onset of dementia. ‘Ten to 15 percent of those with the mild cognitive disorders develop dementia,’ said psychiatrist Park Ki-Jeong.
These findings follow a UCLA study, published last month, which revealed that young people were increasingly suffering from memory problems. They found 14 per cent of people between 18 and 39 complained that their memory was poor.
The study pointed the finger at our modern lifestyle. Our ever increasing screen time leaves us unable to practice focussing on, or memorising, information. Our stress-filled hectic lifestyles prevent concentration or information retention.
Experiments at Columbia University by Psychologist Betsy Sparrow suggest a more pernicious cause. In her 2011 paper, ‘Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips,’ she found that Google and other search engines are changing the very structures of our brains and their ability to process and retain information. According to Sparrow, rather than remembering things, we now simply retain the knowledge of how to find the information we need when we need it. The internet has become our own ‘transactive memory’.
With every development of new or better tools, humans have changed and evolved as they used them. Perhaps we are witnessing the first tentative steps of Homo Digitalis Bionicus and can only look on with the same trepidation that the Neanderthals felt witnessing the coming of Cro-Magnon Man.
When parchment and ink became accessible enough to write down the massive memorised, and verbally passed down, works of the epic poets like Homer, did they fear what would happen to the memorisation abilities of the next generation of poets and writers? If they did, maybe they were right. Like everybody else today, they struggle to remember where they put their keys.
Now, just as then, we are sensing that something is happening to us. We, connected, humans are changing but we have no idea if these changes are permanent, or dangerous, or hereditary; we simply fear the unknown as we always have. And, by the time we know the answers to these questions, I suspect we will care as much about them as would the lotus-eaters, from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, who revelled in forgetfulness produced by the flowers they ate. Now how did I remember that?
Marius Brill lectures on the uses of forgetfulness. His book, ‘How To Forget’ (£6.99) is on sale in all good book shops now.
Borges ‘Limits’ is an immensely moving poem encapsulating mortality and memory. The idea that any beautiful moment or place or person, any wonderful experience is fleeting and you may never see it again, and it will be that way for the rest of your life – only a memory and, even that, will fade to nothingness.
Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone
Who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
Sets up a secret and unwavering scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.
If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?
Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the dim table,
There must be one which I will never read.
There is in the South more than one worn gate,
With its cement urns and planted cactus,
Which is already forbidden to my entry,
Inaccessible, as in a lithograph.
There is a door you have closed forever
And some mirror is expecting you in vain;
To you the crossroads seem wide open,
Yet watching you, four-faced, is a Janus.
There is among all your memories one
Which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down to that fountain
Neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.
You will never recapture what the Persian
Said in his language woven with birds and roses,
When, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
You wish to give words to unforgettable things.
And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
Scourged by the Romans with fire and salt.
At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
They are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.
Jorge Luis Borges
BBC Radio 2 – Talking about Memory with Paddy O’Connell on the Jeremy Vine Show (12.08.2011)
Well it was a first for Bradley, my ‘driver’, who had to locate me, in my tent, in the middle of a field in the New Forest, just to whisk me off to London for the day. (A wet holiday richly interrupted) All provided for by Transworld to make sure I didn’t forget to turn up for my ‘Special’ on Radio 2 on Friday on the Jeremy Vine Show. Hosted by one of the most genial men in the world, a man with A’ levels in amiability and affability, Paddy O’Connell.
I cannot describe how nervous I was after somebody mentioned there were 6 million listeners on a Friday. We didn’t get a chance to talk about the book, but I got to put my research to good use. Here is my part of the show…
Click on the arrow to listen.
Another Reminder: Do Not Read This Book if you are responsible for minors…
you have been warned!
As publication day looms, it seems only right and proper to start warning people about this dangerous book and the trouble it could cause.
The main minute long ad comprised of four stories about forgetfulness. This particular story was shot entirely on location in the glamorous settings of Kings Mall, Hammersmth and on the number 19 bus edging up Sloane Street.
The lead (pictured) performed flawlessly every take without once getting upset or grouchy or falling asleep. A star in the making.
Over fifty people kindly looked through the selection of eight covers
that are currently being considered for my upcoming book. George polled over thirty five of his friends on facebook, (for which, though slightly boy heavy and probably not my primary market, I am very grateful) and I nagged my more mature friends. The results were very interesting. Broadly, men tended to go for the fifties bold imagery looks, women were drawn to the girl with the scratched out face. Slightly more men than women responded but even without weighing that bias out, the girl with the scratched out face very slightly pipped the blue at 22 to 18. Possibly had I not offered the red one (below) too, the blue bold look one would have won, but the top two images were clear leaders, receiving by far the lion’s share of votes. So in reverse order the winners are.
All right. I am quite chuffed that this one won, as I can reveal now that it was the one that I designed. I’m also glad it appeals to women as they seem, on the whole, to be more interested in buying fiction than men… or at least most of the men that I know. That said I doubt that any of these will be the final cover as I don’t detect much support for it within Transworld. Which is why I will be submitting two covers for consideration. The scratched out girl and a typographic surprise cover…
Thank you everybody. And if you fancy helping some more you could click here and tell me which strapline you prefer.
(From the preface of: What The F*** Did I Do With My Keys – What our brains are really telling us when we forget things., London, 2009)
What about that memory of your Dad, when he used to tell you you were stupid and how worthless it made you feel Years after the event you’re still feeling it and, in your lower moments, blaming it for holding you back from pursuing your dreams or actually believing that you deserve success.
What about the memory of your first great love when they waltzed off with someone better looking? Or the parent who walked out leaving you with the psycho one, and all the hurt that went with it? Could that memory, that embedded fear, have anything to do with why, now, you seem to bugger up all your relationships before anyone gets a chance to get too close?
Or, what about those happy childhood memories of carefree roaming, endless summers and Enid Blyton? What happened when you grew up and real life turned out not to be full of magic, adventure and cream teas but stress, monotony and utter shit? Is there possibly some connection between your nostalgic memories and the disappointment, the resentment, that you won’t admit to but still drives you to infantalise yourself with Harry Potter, Friends Reunited or pretending that you’re ‘mates’ with your own kids?
Maybe you find yourself inexplicably clinging on to relationships long past their sell-by date or in terror of asking your boss for a raise or relying on the blissful oblivion of drink or drugs – but if you ever get the sensation that there is something irrational holding you back in life it is, usually, something from your past that is doing it.
But the past isn’t really there, it doesn’t exist, it’s not another country, it is just one thing: a memory.
It seems incredible that the current ‘brain training’ racket, which seems almost to solely exist to justify the sales of hand-held gaming consoles to adults who should know better, is based on such a trivial gain. Being able to remember faces, or shopping lists, or the capital of Lithuania is, no doubt, helpful but it is nothing that the possession of a pen and piece of paper couldn’t do equally well. On the other hand, we all have troubling and intangible things in our heads which, if we could only completely forget them, we could really improve the quality of our memories.
So many of us believe that we’ve buried our painful pasts but, with no knowledge of how to forget effectively, we’ve usually just stored their sleeping shadows in the deepest recesses of our minds, ready to surface again when they will be least helpful. – The field of psychiatry is almost entirely based on the tyranny of inexpertly buried childhood memories rising from the grave, like zombies, to menace us in later life.
In this book I aim to give you the right spade and the best plot, so that you can bury your own, no longer relevant or needed, zombie memories – to forget them completely, effectively and once and for all.
- Christmas Ghosts18 December, 2016 - 3:22 pm
Now is the time to think of them. The dead have a history of being summoned up as the year draws to its end. The Christmas ghost story is a meme that stretches back much further than Dickens’ Christmas Carol.