Memory may need to be 'switched on' to be effective
Scientists have found that people will have trouble recalling events or details that they aren't expected to remember or haven't made a point of committing to memory.
The team at Penn State University tested 100 graduate students in groups by showing them a combination of four letters and numbers on a screen, arranged in a square. All were asked to remember in which corner was one of the letters and they consistently answered correctly almost all of the time. Researchers then unexpectedly asked the participants to identify or locate another character they had just seen. Students got these questions right only 25 percent of the time.
Reporting their results in Psychological Science, researchers called this gap in memory, “attribute amnesia.” They say this happens when a person remembers a small amount of information for a task and then forgets quickly.
When participants were asked those questions in later experiments, it was no longer a surprise, and they answered them correctly between 65 and 95 percent of the time.
Researchers noted that memory works like a video recorder that a person has to “turn on,” in order to remember information. They say this is important, because people typically use memory of past experiences in order to plan out future decisions. What a person selects to remember for the future, may have an effect on their decisions later on. They added that the selectivity of the brain is an adaptive technique, so that people only remember information that is useful.