The seven sins of memory

        Daniel Schacter is one of many psychologists that tried to explore the nature of memory's imperfection. Memory’s errors have long fascinated scientists and here we will give you a small explination of the seven sins of memory that Schacter presented in his book:

1-The sin of transience

    Transience is the forgetting that occurs through time. Let us say for example that you see someone coming to talk with you, but when you see him you just keep smiling and talking and while you are doing that you are trying to remember him.So you lose track of the memory through time. However if you see that same person another time in the same week you would remember him easily. Schacter defined it as the most terrifying of the seven sins.

2-The sin of absent mindedness

     People sometimes put the key somewhere and then start looking for it in another place. Sometimes we enter a room and  then forget why did we even go there? This is the sin of absent mindedness. The psychologist Ellen Langer has pointed out that when this sin happens it is usually because we are devoting our mental resources to more important things.

3-The sin of blocking

    In this sin people know the information but they find troubles remembering it.  And this represents the expression that we are all familiar with “on the tip of my tongue”. Let us take the example we gave in the sin of transience, let us say that a person is coming to talk to you, but this time it is not going to be like transience you will not forget him entirely. You will remember him but you will not remember his name, although you know him. The process of remembering here requires retrieval cues.

4-The sin of misattribution

     This sin appears when we recognize something, we know that we know but we cannot remember the source of it or where we saw it. Let us again take the same example; you saw someone coming to your direction trying to talk to you, if you cannot remember him then you are experiencing the sin of transience, if his name is on the tip of your tongue then you are experiencing the sin of blocking. But if you see his face, feel that you know him but cannot remember where you saw him then in this case you are experiencing the sin of misattribution. Daniel Schacter says that when misattribution combines with another sin “suggestibility” people can develop detailed and strongly held recollections of complex events that never occurred. This valuable idea actually takes us to another important concept in memory which is "false memories".

5-The sin of suggestibility

    People are susceptible to suggestion, so if it is suggested to them that they saw something, they may think that they remember seeing it. One of the biggest examples are the researches made by Elizabeth Loftus about the misinformation effect and false memories. In this context we can give the example of an experiment made by Loftus and Palmer in 1974 where they had two groups. They showed participants a video of a car crash and then they asked the first group, what was speed of the cars when they hit? And they asked the second group, what was the speed of the cars when they smashed? The second group was more likely to give high estimations compared the first group. Hence changing one word was capable of changing the memory of the participants.

6-The sin of bias

       People often experience bias during recall. For example, people who currently are experiencing chronic pain in their lives are more likely to remember pain in the past, whether or not they actually experienced it. On the other hand people who are not experiencing such pain are less likely to recall pain in the past. So in other words the way we were depends on the way we are. Schacter even thinks that the current knowledge, beliefs and feelings can influence our recollection of the past and shape our impressions of people and objects in the present.

7-The sin of persistence

       It presents the unwanted recollection that people do not want to remember. For example, someone with many successes but one notable failure is likely to remember the single failure better than the many successes.  



  • Daniel L.Schacter (2001). The seven sins of memory, how the mind forgets and remember. 






See Also: 

Ebbinghaus' experiment of memory

encoding storage and retrieval

sensory, short term and long term memory

Working memory

Explicit vs implicit memory

the levels of processing model

The process of forgeting

Cognitive Revolution