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August 15, 2016

How reliable is your memory? (Not very.)

Daily Briefing

Can you trust someone else's memory, or even your own? In a post for Scientific American, three memory experts break down why remembering something doesn't mean it actually happened.

Chronic stress can create memory problems

Elizabeth Loftus, a professor at the University of California-Irvine said, "You need independent corroboration to know whether you're dealing with an authentic memory, or something that is a product of some other process."

That's because memory is a perceptive process, said Chris French, a professor at the University of London. "We typically remember the gist of an event rather than the exact details," which means our memories often fill in gaps with misinformation, without us realizing it.

"Even memories which are detailed and vivid and held with 100 percent conviction can be completely false," French said. "Your memory is incredibly malleable."

Twelve surprising reasons your memory may be failing

It's also possible to inadvertently plant false memories by asking multiple, detailed questions in an attempt to jog a memory, said Annelies Vredeveldt, a fellow at VU University Amsterdam.

When you ask too many questions, a person may subconsciously create answers, especially if you ask a leading question, such as "He was a redhead, wasn't he?"

According to Vredeveldt, research suggests open-ended, general questions yield more accurate recollections. "If you really want to get to the bottom of something, restrain yourself and don't ask too many questions," she said, adding, "It is much better" to let people initially tell their stories "of their own accord, without interrupting" (Shaw, Scientific American, 8/8).

Don't just rely on memory: be data-driven

Your clinicians can't only rely on their memories of what works well in the clinical setting—they need to be data-driven. But what does "data-driven" actually mean?

Internet pundits and business theorists will tell you about the many advanced technologies and arcane skills that you absolutely must have to be a data-driven executive, manager, or clinician. In reality, though, you can improve your use of data—and your performance—by focusing on these five principles.

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