How the human brain lies to us


35 Responses to “How the human brain lies to us”

  1. dross1260 says:

    I remember the first time I had sex – I kept the receipt. – G. Marx 

  2. gws says:

    I grew up in a country that drives on the left, and when I was 13 my family moved to America where I live now. Since then I’ve found that most of my driving-related memories from my childhood have switched sides, so I remember sitting in the *right-side* passenger seat instead of the left, or passing traffic on the left, etc.

  3. Bevatron Repairman says:

    For false memory, from about when I was four, I have an absolutely clear memory of putting so much Tang into a glass of water that it actually turned into an orange.  

    I have a couple of other clear, early memories from when I was about 2 or 2.5 — but it’s hard to know how much of that was really retained or got built back in from the retelling but I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually conjure up a lifeform from Tang, even in the heady days of 1974.

  4. a friend once told me a story about how a friend of his died when skydiving — he was diving at the same time and saw it happen. 

    his description was so vivid, i’m certain i’ve seen the incident on video that i assume he was taking while diving… but no, my mind’s created the images i remember.

    • Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

      I, too, wonder that about my very early memories. The stuff I trust the most are the ones that are short, and not connected to a specific story about me–like remembering the location of the trailer park in Topeka where my best friend from preschool lived. (We didn’t go to the same grade school and I never saw him much after age 4.)

      But then, there’s stuff like that soup cooking memory. So, who knows. 

  5. annoyingmouse says:

    I doubt anybody remembers what they were doing during the “assignation” of JFK.

  6. pizzicato says:

    Duh, your brain is a pathology liar, on a recent BBC documentary, there was an experiment displaying a ripe (yellow) banana under various primary lighting , but along a colour chart, whilst the colour chart displayed what should be correct, e.g. under Green and Red, not blue, through the rotation of lighting, the damn banana remains yellow! A learned response.

    Then there’s languages at play, groups that doesn’t have an description of a particular colour can’t perceive it!

    Then there’s the biological/physiological, that our brain are hard-wired through the eyeballs, with receptor that plays no part interpretation of colours but affects the body clock ((through the colour blue, from evolutionary hang ups). 

    Of course our brain is unreliable! 

  7. Tim Drage says:

    Orange body, green legs. Watched her build a web all summer, then one day there’s a big egg in it. The egg hatched… 

  8. Risser says:

    Up until about 2 years ago, I could have sworn I’d had adult teeth pulled when I was a kid.

    Never happened.  Mere counting would have told me I have the full set of 32…

  9. inkfumes says:

    When I was 5 or 6 I watched an episode of Star Trek (the original), the one with the blue skinned-white haired guys with antennae on their heads. In one scene a blue guy attacks Spock… the real episode is very tame violence wise. Years later when I would think back on that episode I imagine all this blood and gore… none of which existed. The implied violence became a platform for my brain to do its own thing. I always thought it was a horrible and traumatizing episode to watch… I finally saw it again when I was 18 or so and I couldn’t believe my imagination had gotten the better of me.

    • Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

      Last week, I watched Labyrinth for the first time in decades and realized that David Bowie’s codpiece is nowhere near as big or prominent as I remember it being when I was 8. 

  10. Brittany Race says:

    We remember what we choose to remember. If you want to remember lies, you will. If you want to remember what really happened, you will. 

  11. Jacob Ewing says:

    I remember in my early single-digit years having memories of sitting in my mother’s womb, playing with my sister.  That was of course before I realised that her being twenty months older than me would make that a little bit tricky.

  12. chellberty says:

    My non-caching proxy (privoxy) notified me that the embed has gotten a 503 “This is Privoxy 3.0.17 on kissmetrics .com (, port 8118, enabled ”
     The embeded media on this page connects to a site which I Have recently put kissmetics in my hosts list to block what i was told was from this article has possible “undeletable cookies”

  13. Nadreck says:

    I have no false memories.  All of my memories are “flashbulb” memories in HiDef, regardless of emotional content.  After approximately 10 years they mostly, independent of their emotional content, degrade in fidelity and after 15 small details start to conflate from different incidents.  A few, completely random, memories permanently stay in HiDef although, as I age, the rate of accumulation of these has slowed greatly.  Amusingly, one of the permanent ones is the JFK assassination announcement although I was too young at the time to have given a fig about it and have never been a Kennedy fan since.

  14. Eric Hart says:

    I have an identical twin brother. We actually confuse some of the memories from our earliest childhood, ie, each of us will be certain that a specific event happened to him, rather than to the other one. It even extends to dreams. Each of us will argue fervently that a certain dream was dreamt by ourself and not the other, with no hope of resolving the argument.

  15. Edward Iglesias says:

    This most reminds me of the “Satanic Panic” repressed memories of the 80′s

  16. Mister Juju says:

    Is anyone else going to post a non-satirical comment? I’m rather enjoying reading other people’s false memories, since I can’t think of any of my own.

    • wylkyn says:

      Yes. I actually have a memory of when I was perhaps 5 years old or so waking up from a nap, going to the window, and seeing a witch fly across our backyard. It was a stereotypical witch – black dress, pointed hat, broomstick, etc – but the memory of seeing it from my window, and the fear and confusion is such a vivid memory. Of course, I consider it a memory of a dream. But it feels like a real memory.

      My mother always tells the story of a memory she has when she was a little girl in Georgia of being teased by her older sister for being afraid of a feral black cat that lived in their neighborhood. She specifically remembers an incident where she was out in front of their house, and saw a woman walking towards her. The woman transformed into the black cat. I don’t know if this was a dream or what, but she describes it as a real memory.

  17. Mike Baker says:

    I have a vivid memory of living in a tree house with my family when I was about 3. I have a more realistic memory of my mother laughing when I asked her about it when I was about 7. I still remember that tree house. – Funny, I just watched Swiss Family Robinson with my daughter last night. Not the same tree house. Mine was more 60′s modern.

  18. lknope says:

    The memories that are being described are only the memories that we know are false because there is something improbable about them.  We probably have a bunch of false memories that we have no idea are false.

    • Mister Juju says:

      Right, the improbable stuff is the clue that the memories are false. Also, most of these descriptions are memories from childhood, when the world was a more magical place, therefore (some) people are more likely to believe they *really* saw what they think they saw. However, I think the article is about false memories from adulthood. 
      My experience w/false memories is pretty boring; that’s why I like to read other people’s memories. I remember seeing an episode of a tv show in which a main character describes herself as Cuban. And so I believed throughout the rest of the series (two whole seasons!) that she’s Cuban. Then when I re-watched the DVDs of the show, it turns out she says she’s Puerto Rican! But I totally remember her saying Cuban–the memory is SO CLEAR. My false memories are so lame…but I can see how easily a false memory can convince you it’s real.

  19. Beth Morgan says:

    Here’s a real one, Mister Juju.  I told a story for years about the time my dad hit a dog when he was taking me, my brother, and my sister to the airport.  In my story, we stopped to check on the dog and it got up and wobbled off only to leap back in front of the car again as soon as we were under way.  I remember it so clearly.  But a couple of years ago I mentioned the story to my brother, who is 4 years older, and he said it never happened.  Then I asked my sister, who is 7 years older, and she said he did hit something, but it was a cat, it definitely never got up again, and we didn’t stop.  Unfortunately my dad is dead so I can’t ask him about it, but I thought it was fascinating to see how we all dealt with an event that was obviously traumatic.  In my memory  the animal wasn’t hurt that badly at first, and we tried to help it, but it really wanted to die.  In my sister’s memory it was an animal she doesn’t like that much.  And my brother blocked it out completely.

  20. macca says:

    I remember when I was between 2 and 3, I was paddling in the local swimming pool and – what with being but an infant – started to sink and drown, despite whatever ring/armbands I had.  My dad swam down and rescued me.  I asked him about this years later, when I was about 12 – apparently it never happened.

  21. allthegoodusernamesaretaken says:

    As a seven-year-old I was on the outskirts of a pretty serious earthquake. I have two separate and contradictory memories of exactly where in the house I was at the moment the earthquake started.

  22. Ashcan says:

    Before my teen years Life Magazine ran a story on Russian spying which included a picture of a horizontally bisected nickel. My brain believes that while working at McDonald’s I received one of these nickels. When I showed it to my manager and asked for pliers to pull it open he dismissed the idea and told me to get back to work.

  23. John Light says:

    Shankar Vedantam’s book “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives” covers this subject very well, with lots of examples.  Lots of examples of our brains lying, to us and others.

  24. penguinchris says:

    I remember once looking out my bedroom window towards the back yard as a kid (a window that no longer exists as my parents had an addition put on that part of the house) and seeing an armadillo walk across the yard. The house is in Buffalo, NY, not Texas or wherever else armadillos live. Most likely it was an opossum, but I still vividly remember it being an armadillo, with the distinctive armor and color and everything.

  25. Leroy Lee says:

    I have a similar thing where I remember stepping on a small (baby?) porcupine while running barefoot in our backyard when I was around five or six.  I remember having one black spine impaled  in the bottom of my foot and having some adult pull it out.  Neither of my parents remember this and stepping on a porcupine in a backyard in Sacramento, California seems unlikely.

    My mom tells a story about standing in her front yard with three other adults when she was in her 20s.  A car comes up the road, sideswipes a couple of parked cars and drives off (I’m pretty sure it was Dick Whitman).  When the police show up and the first person gave their description and said the car was everyone looked at him like he was crazy.  As they talked about it, they discovered that each of them thought the car was a different color (and they were probably all wrong).

  26. meg gandy says:

    when i was 6 years old, we were living in the poor, dangerous part of town, and i had just started school and was completely miserable. cried myself to sleep every night, etc etc. so, one night i decided to run away.

    in this neighborhood, there were dogs that had pretty much free reign at night. they ran in a pack and ate garbage and whatever else–and they were in the parking lot when i flung open the front door. and they were bigger than me. and i shut the door on them and ran back upstairs in terror.

    the false part of the memory (the existence of the dogs was later confirmed by family) was my mother discovering i had tried to run away and spanking my ass. my mom frequently spanked my brother, but she never had reason to touch me because i was the quiet kid. she had no idea i had tried to run away until i told her, years later. i guess i was so scared of being caught, i dreamed/imagined it.

  27. I remember when I was three or four my aunt and I were in the backseat of the family car on a trip to a nearby city.  My dad was driving and my Mom was in the passenger seat.  A giant dinosaur was towering over the buildings, walking around and generally destroying things.  My dad had to swerve to miss one of its feet.

  28. William Hurley says:

    Buddhists have long understood the unintended, unconscious biases and implicit “favoritism” conditioning identity fabrication in people.  It’s good to see the slow erosion of Cartesian dualism creep forward a little bit more. Antonio Dimasio would, I believe, be tickled by the panel’s discussion in the video.

  29. prudencezain says:

    I don’t remember EVER being sun burned as a kid.  Our house was directly on the beachfront, our front yard the sand.  I was on the beach every waking moment when I wasn’t in school or doing mindless chores.  We never wore sunblock.  I am SURE I would have suffered sunburn but I just can’t remember a single episode.  Both my older brothers don’t remember being burned either.  Weird.

  30. cjporkchop says:

    When I was in kindergarten, I was awoken late at night on Christmas Eve by a sound like someone rummaging through a drawer full of silverware. I got up and went to find the source of the sound. I saw Santa Claus standing at the fireplace, digging through a large bag of metallic-sounding things, as though looking for a particular item to put in my stocking. I didn’t want him to know I had seen him, so I raced back to my room, got back in bed, and lay awake until the clock said whatever time I was allowed to wake up my parents and brother for gift-opening.

  31. curgoth says:

    I remember quite clearly hanging around with a bunch of kids watching a spider climb the wall of a 6-7 story apartment building. The spider was about a metre or so wide. This was in southern Ontario. Even if there was a spider that big, I don’t think any spider can climb that fast – ground to roof in about 15 seconds, as I recall.

    Every once in a while, I will encounter an odd, vivid memory fragment that doesn’t quite make sense, and, after a good while I realize it was something I’d dreamt months previous.

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