FROM: Kurzweil Newsletter:

Each time you recall an event, your brain distorts it

Remember the telephone game where people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the next person in line? By the time the last person speaks it out loud, the message has radically changed. It’s been altered with each retelling.

Turns out your memory is a lot like that, according to a new Northwestern University Medicine study.

Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. So the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event, but what you remembered the previous time.

“A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event – it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

False memories

“Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”

The findings have implications for witnesses giving testimony in criminal trials, Bridge noted. “Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted,” she said. “After that it keeps going downhill.”

The published study reports on Bridge’s work with 12 participants, but she has run several variations of the study with a total of 70 people. “Every single person has shown this effect,” she said. “It’s really huge.”

“When someone tells me they are sure they remember exactly the way something happened, I just laugh,” Bridge said.

The reason for the distortion, Bridge said, is the fact that human memories are always adapting. “Memories aren’t static,” she noted. “If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”

The research study

For the study, people were asked to recall the location of objects on a grid in three sessions over three consecutive days. On the first day, during a two-hour session, participants learned a series of 180 unique object-location associations on a computer screen. The next day in session two, participants were given a recall test in which they viewed a subset of those objects individually in a central location on the grid and were asked to move them to their original location. Then the following day in session three, participants returned for a final recall test.

The results showed improved recall accuracy on the final test for objects that were tested on day two compared to those not tested on day two. However, people never recalled exactly the right location. Most importantly, in session three they tended to place the object closer to the incorrect location they recalled during day two rather than the correct location from day one.

“Our findings show that incorrect recollection of the object’s location on day two influenced how people remembered the object’s location on day three,” Bridge explained. “Retrieving the memory didn’t simply reinforce the original association. Rather, it altered memory storage to reinforce the location that was recalled at session two.”

Bridge’s findings also were supported when she measured participants’ neural signals – the electrical activity of the brain – during session two. She wanted to see if the neural signals during session two predicted anything about how people remembered the object’s location during session three.

The results revealed a particular electrical signal when people were recalling an object location during session two. This signal was greater when – the next day – the object was placed close to that location recalled during session two. When the electrical signal was weaker, recall of the object location was likely to be less distorted.

“The strong signal seems to indicate that a new memory was being laid down,” Bridge said, “and the new memory caused a bias to make the same mistake again.”

“This study shows how memories normally change over time, sometimes becoming distorted,” Paller noted. “When you think back to an event that happened to you long ago – say your first day at school – you actually may be recalling information you retrieved about that event at some later time, not the original event.”

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant BCS1025697 and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health grant T32 NS047987.

Topics: Cognitive Science/Neuroscience

New York Times: SCIENCE

OXFORD, England –You walk out of a soft-falling rain into the living room of an Oxford don, with great walls of books, handsome art and, on the far side of the room, graceful windows onto a luxuriant garden.

Does this man, arguably the world’s most influential evolutionary biologist, spend most of his time here or in the field? Prof. Richard Dawkins smiles faintly. He did not find fame spending dusty days picking at shale in search of ancient trilobites. Nor has he traipsed the African bush charting the sex life of wildebeests.

He gets little charge from such exertions.

“My interest in biology was pretty much always on the philosophical side,” he says, listing the essential questions that drive him. “Why do we exist, why are we here, what is it all about?”

It is in no fashion to diminish Professor Dawkins, a youthful 70, to say that his greatest accomplishment has come as a profoundly original thinker, synthesizer and writer. His epiphanies follow on the heels of long sessions of reading and thought, and a bit of procrastination. He is an elegant stylist with a taste for metaphor. And he has a knack, a predisposition even, for assailing orthodoxy.

— Click here for the full article and short video —

In 1982, Professor Edward de Bono was asked by his co-founder, Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, to write out the benefits for School of Thinking members. Edward was asked what he personally thought were the value and growth attributes of graduates that were trained by the School of Thinking. In his letter he wrote:

“I would expect an SOT graduate to use thinking in a quiet and confident manner. I would expect that person to have pride in his or her thinking skill. I would expect that skill to be focused in a deliberate manner on whatever needed thinking about. In any situation I would expect a “thinking reaction” rather than a reaction based on emotion or experience alone. The thinking might make use of experience and emotion, but these would be part of the thinking instead of controlling it.

It is the deliberate application of thinking to both problems and opportunities that is most important. I would not expect that person to be right all the time but I would expect a conclusion based on objective thinking. An SOT trained person would not try to defend a point of view at all costs. There should be an ability to see other points of view and to consider the many factors involved. An untrained person will use thinking only to back up a chosen point of view, without exploring the subject. A trained thinker will use thinking first to explore the subject, then decide priorities and make a decision.

I would expect a trained person to possess a great deal of wisdom and common sense. This arises from an ability to see any situation in a broad perspective. Wisdom is quite distinct from the sort of cleverness that is taught in school. Cleverness may be alright for dealing with puzzles but wisdom is required for dealing with life. I would expect a trained person to get on with his or her work and to get along with other people. If things went wrong I would expect that person to think them through and to put them right without creating a fuss.

I would expect a trained person to be able to spell out the factors involved in a situation and the reasons behind a decision.

Above all, a person trained in thinking can be asked to think about something. He or she can be asked to focus thinking in a deliberate manner upon any subject. Thinking should have become a tool that can be used at will. The use of this tool should be enjoyable whatever the outcome. This applied thinking is practical–the sort of thinking that is required to get things done!

– Professor Edward de Bono, Co-founder of the School of Thinking.
Exerpt from the Learn-To-Think Coursebook and Instructors Manual
© 1982 Edward de Bono and Michael Hewitt-Gleeson de Saint-Arnaud, Capra New USA.

You can visit Edward de Bono’s personal site:


BACKGROUND: For eight years (1977 to 1984) Dr Hewitt-Gleeson and Edward de Bono collaborated to launch a project to get THINKING taught in schools as a school subject. This was the Learn-To-Think Project and was first published in their textbook The Learn-To-Think: Coursebook and Instructors Manual, ISBN 0-88496-199-0 which was co-authored by Hewitt-Gleeson and De Bono in 1982.

Their original textbook on thinking skills was featured as a cover story on all global editions of Readers Digest (article entitled Seven Steps to Better Thinking, April 1983) with a readership of 78 million readers in 70 countries and published in 21 languages. This global publication event was the widest ever distribution of thinking skills and remains so to this day.

To advance this project they created and co-owned several corporate entities: Edward de Bono & Associates Inc, New York (1977), The Cognitive Research and Training (CoRT) Foundation Inc, New York (1983) and The Edward de Bono School of Thinking Inc, New York (1983).

In 1983 they developed The Six Thinking Caps method for teaching thinking skills. In the Preface of a recent edition of Six Thinking Hats Edward de Bono acknowledges that their thinking hats method “may well be the most important change in human thinking for the past 2300 years”.

Today the School of Thinking (SOT) is an independent school based on the internet at and operated from Melbourne by Hewitt-Gleeson. In 2013 SOT exported more than one million thinking lessons to members in over 50 countries.