Problematic research on memory

This 2013 Harvard human study investigated brain areas that stabilized and updated memories when reactivated:

“The timing of neural recruitment and the way in which memories were reactivated contributed to differences in whether memory reactivation led to distortions or not.

Stronger reliving improved memory.”

However, like researchers often do, they stripped all emotional memory content out of the study, presumably because messy feelings would confound their conclusions. The study used non-emotional pictures only.

It’s curious that the researchers wanted to apply this study to eyewitness accounts. What are the chances that an eyewitness to a murder or a violent accident or crime would have a non-emotional memory of the event?

The study’s exclusion of emotional memories called into doubt that the finding “stronger reliving improved memory” also applied to reliving emotional memories. The categorical statements the researchers claimed about memory, in particular about the hippocampus – the center of emotional memories – weren’t shown to be applicable to emotional memories.

Also, the researchers didn’t include areas of the limbic system, other than the hippocampus, that would likely participate in the reliving of emotional memories. The Making lasting memories: Remembering the significant summary study cited many studies that provided evidence of other brain areas’ involvement.

The researchers had too narrow a basis for a finding that applied across the spectrum of what can be termed memory.

http://www.pnas.org/content/110/49/19671.full “Neural mechanisms of reactivation-induced updating that enhance and distort memory”

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