Here’s how unreliable our memories really are
Plus, a little uncertainty goes a long way
“I was there trying to help them avoid all of these negative outcomes [that] were predicted by waiting for that second marshmallow” — psychologist Celeste Kidd
Photographs & memories. Twenty years ago, researchers found that false photographs changed people’s childhood memories. They doctored volunteers’ childhood photos to make it look like they had taken a hot air balloon ride. Then they asked the volunteers to recall everything they remembered about the photo and had them rate how confident they felt about those memories. The results? Half of the people created complete or partial false memories. In fact, when it was revealed that the photo was fake, one study volunteer even said, “That’s amazing, ’cause I honestly started to talk myself into believing it!” A new study aimed to replicate these findings, swapping out the balloon ride with a ride on a Viking ship. The results were similar: This time, 40% of people reported false memories. “The participants who reported false memories reported detailed and coherent memory narratives of the Viking ship ride not depicted in the doctored photograph,” the researchers reported. Speaking of memory, do you remember our episode: Did I Really Do That?
Rethinking confidence. Our brains like certainty, but a new study suggests that people might prefer ambiguity when it comes to certain predictions. In a series of experiments, researchers asked people to predict outcomes of certain future events (e.g. sporting events). People were also given predictions from outside “advisors,” and some of these advisors offered a “confidence interval.” That is, they gave some idea of the likelihood they might be right or wrong. In all but one study, people were more likely to choose an advisor’s prediction over their own when the advice was accompanied by a confidence interval. “These results were consistent across different measures of advice following and did not depend on the width of the confidence interval (75% or 95%), advice quality, or on whether people had information about the advisor’s past performance,” the study reported. “These results suggest that advisors may be more persuasive if they provide reasonably-sized confidence intervals around their numerical estimates.”
Minding mindfulness: We’ve all heard that mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial. But what does science have to say about it? Listen to learn more
ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST
When to Eat the Marshmallow: In many societies, self-discipline is seen as an invaluable trait. But we often overlook what makes it possible to hold back in those moments of temptation.
ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST
John Kindschuh’s Story: John remembers the quick thinking of his hospital roommate, who called for help when John’s speech began to slur and may have saved his life.
Don’t forget to send us the story of your unsung hero! Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON HIDDEN BRAIN+
You Only Have One Life: Wisdom often comes from unexpected sources. Today on the show, we hear from novelist and physician Abraham Verghese, who tells us about a terminally-ill patient who changed the course of his life.
FROM OUR LISTENERS
Is it correct to say "The yolk of eggs is white" or "The yolk of eggs are white"?
LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE
What five-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
The answer: Short