Mistakes help us recognize things, so mis_takes are good, right?
on 03 May 2020
moments in memory

What would life be like without memory, imagine having to relearn everything, every day? But while we know we won't have to, it is also useful to know that memory can be as much our nemesis as it is our friend and just like some friends, it's not that reliable either . . . 

I was initially thinking of how one could make sensible use of this research, about a car and a motorcycle hurtling towards me, then it hit me! Not the car or the motorcycle, but rather an idea about the way react to visual stimulation. Although this research focuses on the way short term memory reacts to changing information, as the dynamic duo get closer and closer, it essentially highlights that the information is slightly different. Nevertheless, we update this changing information, so that it can be used contextually. So, I thought, what about longer-term memories of the same thing, that have lots of contextual memories. Think of a partner, a rich array of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, engrams of memories, that could be stimulated merely by virtue of the way we are feeling? Imagine you are at a restaurant, the service is good, the food is excellent and, your partner, seems to be in a jovial light mood. Then, all of a sudden, you get "that feeling," something is off, there's an air of unpleasantness but why?

At this point, all you need is something to focus this feeling on, it could be a reason or even an excuse, be it tangible or intangible, it doesn't matter. So, let's for the purpose of this exercise assume it's him, it must be, who else could it be? All that matters right now, is, that whatever you come up with, the reason/excuse, is that it makes sense, seems true or, at the very least, is believable.  To understand what is going on though, we have to delve into the way memories are created, stored and retrieved and this occurs mostly outside of conscious awareness. The two main types of memory categories are explicit (declarative) and implicit (non-declarative). Explicit memory is also known as autobiographical, semantic, episodic etc. Things you know and know that you know, e.g. who you are, where you live, date of birth, places you lived in the past and, of course, people and things you know etc. Implicit memory is encoded both nonconsciously and consciously (explicitly) but is most often used nonconsciously. An example of this conscious-nonconscious learning is when we learn to drive. Initially, we are very conscious of the instructions and acquiring the tactile skills and then, unconsciously, shift them over to nonconscious memory. So, at first, we drive very consciously and later we drive, nonconsciously, without giving it a second thought! This is categorised as procedural memory (also called automatic, unconscious). When it comes to our human experience, emotional memory is largely implicit in nature and this is because of connections to our defensive mechanisms (fight or flight). We simply do not have the time to start analysing life-threatening situations or even potential ones, like crossing the road! In terms of human challenges or difficulty, implicit memory can greatly affect our thoughts and behaviours. And it is through a mix of implicit memories, and the subjective interpretations we make as adults, that they become the precursor that develops into emotional and mental malaise! 

Memories are believed to be spread throughout many regions of the brain and stored somewhat relative to their sensory system (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory). Areas known as convergence/divergence zones collate and process these memory engrams into specific collective whole's. However, as specific as memory can be, it is also somewhat unreliable and I think this is the point being raised in this research. You can remember an event but may get the year wrong. Or, you may get everything right, except one particular person wasn't there or the storyline is off a bit, maybe totally, to a certain degree. It is in these contexts that emotional memories can let us down, simply because they don't have the time for detailed analysis. So, it's time to go back to the restaurant, because as you look around, you begin to introspect and ruminate because, as you look at it, there really is nothing there! You start to become aware that you are experiencing an illusory sensory experience.

This last part describes the way an experienced client of hypnosis learns to process these types of unexplainable human experience. What quite possibly happened was that there is sufficient sensory stimulus to stimulate several sensory memories that are then processed via convergence zones and elicit a past memory. It could be something in the restaurant (a sound or smell) or the food itself (taste), maybe something he is wearing (visual) or even the cutlery, table cloth (touch) etc. that has links to a past memory of an unpleasant nature. However, because we are not aware consciously of the cause but very consciously aware of the effect, this makes no sense to us. So, being human, conscious, logical, rational beings, we have to make it make sense, enter the reason or the excuse; either will do! The purpose of therapy is to discover the possible ways in which young, maybe childhood, memories, created by an inexperienced, immature and illogical brain encoded experience. Of course, for a child, these types of memories mostly work, for a child, they just may not work as an adult.

You may ask if they don't work for an adult, then why would we use them? The answers to that are complex but can often be encapsulated succinctly into one word; survival. As we develop into adulthood, and, assuming we don't do that very well developmentally, the brain can corrupt or distort these childhood memories. So, while they worked relatively well when we were a child, now they leave mental or emotional scars. A clue to the prevalence of this process is often found in the way an adult articulates the experience. They now use language and language patterns that they did not have as a child and of course, within language, comes meaning, context and/or interpretation. Each time we recall a memory we acquire more knowledge, experience and understanding and consequential of this, our brain has the potential to update the memory. This is similar to the way a mobile phone updates an app. The app is fundamentally the same but functionally different. But what if the new code doesn't fit well with the existing instructions or contains a bug or virus, the app will not work properly, maybe not at all. It can distort the function (behaviour) or bring about unreliable results (thoughts) that lead to us having the wrong information, which may affect the outcome. But, like the app user, we are not always aware of the inaccuracy of the outcome, which, to some extent, may just be a result of the updated app (memory) being predicated on the original app (memory).

So, in that context, the resultant life experience, of the outcome of this memory, appears to be valid, real, believable etc! This new belief in the updated, corrupted or distorted memory becomes part of our new/current life experience and, to the degree that it aids survival, it evolves into a new version of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias somewhat determines what we, nonconsciously look for, it is the retrospectively observable aspect of life, that makes our daily experience tenable. But that doesn't necessarily mean enjoyable, pleasant or nice, it just means that the odds of getting to tomorrow are now significantly increased. The defensive mechanisms of the brain care little or nothing about the quality of your life, its remit is survival. Its objective, getting you to tomorrow, what you are like tomorrow, becomes tomorrows problem. We, as a conscious entity, are far more concerned about the quality of our life and it is the disparity between these two worlds that brings a client to explore the process of therapy. Hypnotherapy has the ability to change the brain's code. It does this by virtue of how it enables (nonconscious/hypnotic) communication within the specific brain regions (via the auditory cortices), as they relate to memories of life's specific experience(s).

Hypnosis is akin to sleep states and it is during sleep, that the brain creates new memories (consolidates) and/or updates existing ones (reconsolidates). So, in that context, the client experiences two very powerful experiences, close together. The first is the conscious awareness of new information (the therapeutic intervention), the second is this intervention (directly or indirectly) being restated to the subconscious brain during hypnosis. This creates/initiates the processes of consolidation and/or reconsideration, in sleep-like states, intensifying the memory processes and aiding the learning process. When the client enters sleep states, later that day, the process is reactivated in a process called, sleep-dependent memory consolidation/reconsolidation. This process is eventually what brings about change. What determines how this happens, is the strength, intensity and associated connections of the memory('s). How the client experiences hypnosis also plays a role and this often determines the number of sessions required. Simply put, the stronger the emotional component of the experience(s), the more entrenched the memory seems to be. This can lead to it being more resistant to change, simply because of change has the potential to decrease the perspective of survival! If you are facing some challenges to your life at this moment, maybe an appointment for a Free Consultation, to check out your options, could give you a new perspective on life? To make an appointment, check out the link below!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little or poor quality sleep and too little by way of mental and emotional clarity! So, to get or take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious brain's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want the ability to make your life feel better, then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

My objective is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into emotional experiences that may actually be happening but for reasons, we may never have imagined! If you want to know more about Hypnotherapy, why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research:

We learned it as children: to cross the street in exemplary fashion, we must first look to the left, then to the right, and finally once more to the left. If we see a car and a cyclist approaching when we first look to the left, this information is stored in our short-term memory. During the second glance to the left, our short-term memory reports: bicycle and car were there before, they are the same ones, they are still far enough away. We cross the street safely.

This is, however, not at all true. Our short-term memory deceives us. When looking to the left the second time, our eyes see something completely different: the bicycle and the car do not have the same colour anymore because they are just now passing through the shadow of a tree, they are no longer in the same location, and the car is perhaps moving more slowly. The fact that we nonetheless immediately recognise the bicycle and the car is due to the fact that the memory of the first leftward look biases the second one.

Scientists at Goethe University, led by psychologist Christoph Bledowski and doctoral student Cora Fischer reconstructed the traffic situation -- very abstractly -- in the laboratory: student participants were told to remember the motion direction of green or red dots moving across a monitor. During each trial, the test person saw two moving dot fields in short succession and had to subsequently report the motion direction of one of these dot fields. In additional tests, both dot fields were shown simultaneously next to each other. The test persons all completed numerous successive trials.

The Frankfurt scientists were very interested in the mistakes made by the test persons and how these mistakes were systematically connected in successive trials. If for example, the observed dots moved in the direction of 10 degrees and in the following trial in the direction of 20 degrees, most people reported 16 to 18 degrees for the second trial. However, if 0 degrees were correct for the following trial, they reported 2 to 4 degrees for the second trial. The direction of the previous trial, therefore, distorted the perception of the following one -- "not very much, but systematically," says Christoph Bledowski. He and his team extended previous studies by investigating the influence of contextual information of the dot fields like colour, spatial position (right or left) and sequence (shown first or second). "In this way, we more closely approximate real situations, in which we acquire different types of visual information from objects," Bledowski explains. This contextual information, especially space and sequence, contribute significantly to the distortion of successive perception in short-term memory. First author Cora Fischer says: "The contextual information helps us to differentiate among different objects and consequently to integrate information of the same object through time."

What does this mean for our traffic situation? "Initially, it doesn't sound good if our short-term memory reflects something different from what we physically see," says Bledowski. "But if our short-term memory were unable to do this, we would see a completely new traffic situation when we looked to the left a second time. That would be quite confusing because a different car and a different cyclist would have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The slight 'blurring' of our perception by memory ultimately leads us to perceive our environment, whose appearance is constantly changing due to motion and light changes, as stable. In this process, the current perception of the car, for example, is only affected by the previous perception of the car, but not by the perception of the cyclist."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Goethe University FrankfurtNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Cora Fischer, Stefan Czoschke, Benjamin Peters, Benjamin Rahm, Jochen Kaiser, Christoph Bledowski. Context information supports the serial dependence of multiple visual objects across memory episodesNature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15874-w

Cite This Page:

Goethe University Frankfurt. "How mistakes help us recognize things." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2020. <>