A wrong memory may actually indicate that your memory is at its best


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Here comes Yves. Although this article is a bit inspiring for those with poor memory, this article does not distinguish between different aspects of memory, which is a bit annoying. For example, a friend’s memory is very poor, especially the name and face. It wasn’t until he turned 55 that he no longer remembered clearly whether he had seen someone before… and almost all the time, he could tell their names, circumstances, and even the way they were dressed ten years later. One of my brothers also recalled a lot of details of our childhood, although he admitted that it was not always possible to connect them to the narrative. Some people have very good melody and rhythm memory, but I cannot save my life by learning dance combinations. You do have a good memory of numbers, but this may be the result of practice (I avoid using contact lists and can usually remember a number that I dialed twice in a week for at least six months).

In addition, food is too important to me, and I can’t forget a good dessert.

Author: Robert Jacobs, Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester.Originally published on dialogue

When asked about a bakery near my home the other day, I replied that I recently ate its mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies. My wife corrected me and pointed out that the cookies I ate were actually oatmeal raisins.

Why do I get this memory error? Is this an early sign of impending dementia? Should I call my doctor?

Or is it a good thing to forget the details of desserts, because daily life is full of details, and the limited human brain cannot accurately remember these details?

I am a Cognitive scientist And already Study human perception and cognition For more than 30 years.My colleagues and I have been developing New theories and experimental methods Explore this error. Are these memory errors a bad thing caused by wrong mental processing?Or, contrary to intuition, can they Become a good thing, The ideal side effect of effective working of cognitive systems with limited capacity?We lean towards the latter-memory errors may actually indicate that humans The cognitive system is “optimal” or “rational.”

Are people rational?

For decades, cognitive scientists have been thinking about whether human cognition is strictly rational.Since the 1960s, psychologists Daniel Kahneman with Amos Tversky Implement Groundbreaking research on this topic. They concluded that People often use “Quick and dirty” psychological strategy, also known as Heuristic.

For example, when asked whether there are more words that start with the letter “k” or “k” as the third letter in English, most people will say that there are more words that start with “k”. Kahneman and Tversky believe that people come to this conclusion by quickly thinking about words that start with “k” and start with “k” in the third position, and noting that they can think of more words that start with “k”. Kahneman and Tversky call this strategy “Usability heuristic“——The easiest thing to think of will affect your conclusion.

Although heuristics usually produce good results, sometimes they don’t. Therefore, Kahneman and Tversky believe that no, human perception is not optimal. In fact, there are many more words with “k” in the third position in English than words starting with “k”.

Second best or best?

However, in the 1980s, studies began to appear in the scientific literature showing that human perception and cognition may usually be the best.For example, multiple studies have found that people Combining information from multiple senses – For example, sight and hearing, or sight and touch – in a statistically optimal way, despite the presence of noise in the sensory signal.

Perhaps most importantly, research shows that at least some seemingly suboptimal behaviors are actually the opposite. For example, it is well known that people sometimes underestimate the speed of moving objects. Therefore, scientists assume that human visual movement perception is sub-optimal.

One more thing Recent research shows The statistically best sensory interpretation or perception is a method that combines visual information about the speed of an object with the general knowledge that most objects in the world tend to be stationary or moving slowly. In addition, when the visual information is noisy or of low quality, this best interpretation will underestimate the object’s speed.

Because the theoretically optimal interpretation and people’s actual interpretation will make similar mistakes in similar situations, these errors may be inevitable when the visual information is imperfect, and people are actually perceiving the speed of movement. , And what they can perceive.

Scientists found relevant results when studying human cognition. People often make mistakes when they remember, reason, decide, plan, or act, especially when the information is unclear or uncertain. As with the perception example of visual speed estimation, the statistically best strategy for performing cognitive tasks is to combine information from data (such as things people observe or experience) with general knowledge about how the world normally works.The researchers found that the mistakes made by the optimal strategy—the inevitable mistakes caused by ambiguity and uncertainty—are similar to the mistakes people actually make, which shows People may be performing cognitive tasks and tasks they can perform.

More and more evidences show that errors are inevitable when perceiving and inferring fuzzy input and uncertain information. If so, then error is not necessarily an indicator of mental processing error. In fact, people’s perception and cognitive systems may actually work well.

Your brain, under constraints

Human mental behavior is often restricted. Some limitations are inherent: people’s ability to pay attention is limited—you can’t pay attention to everything at the same time. And people’s memory capacity is limited-you can’t remember everything completely. Other restrictions are external, such as the need to make timely decisions and take actions. Given these limitations, people may not always perform the best perception or cognition.

But—this is the key point—although your perception and cognition may not be as good as they are now if there are no restrictions, they may be Ok because they can have these restrictions.

Consider a problem, and its solution requires you to consider many factors at the same time. If you cannot consider all factors at once due to the limited capacity of your attention, then you will not be able to think of the best solution.However, if you consider as many factors as possible at the same time, and if these factors are the most useful factors to solve the problem, then you will be able to think of a The best possible solution Your limited attention.

The limit of memory

This method of emphasizing “constrained optimality” is sometimes referred to as “Resource rationality“Method. My colleagues and I developed a method of human memory with reasonable resources. Our framework thinks Memory as a communication channel.

When you put an item in your memory, it is as if you are sending a message to your future self. However, the capacity of this channel is limited, so all the details of the message cannot be transmitted. Therefore, the message retrieved from the memory later may be different from the message placed in the memory at an earlier time. This is why a memory error occurs.

If your memory storage is unable to faithfully maintain all the details of the stored items due to its limited capacity, then it is best to ensure that all the details that it can maintain are important. In other words, in limited circumstances, memory should be the best.

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In fact, researchers have found that people tend to Remember the details related to the task and forget the details that are not related to the task. also, People tend to remember general points Put the item in memory and forget its details. When this happens, people tend to mentally “fill in” the missing details with the most common or common attributes. In a sense, using common attributes when details are missing is a heuristic-it is a quick and dirty strategy that usually works but sometimes fails.

Why do I remember to eat chocolate chip cookies when I actually eat oatmeal raisin cookies? Because I remember the main points of my experience—eating cookies—but I forgot the details, so I filled these details with the most common attributes, namely chocolate chip cookies. In other words, this error indicates that my memory works as well as possible under its constraints. This is a good thing.



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