What is the psychology behind selective memory

Selective Memory - Why do we remember some things and some not?

Last update: 16 May, 2018

Our memory works selectively, it does not remember all adventures and experiences in the same way. The psychologist William James said: "If we remembered everything, we would be just as sick as if we didn't remember anything."

We store certain memories very deeply in our minds and we remember them perfectly and even after a long time. On the other hand, there are things that we cannot remember very well, that we easily forget. It is also no coincidence that at times we can remember an event from the past and then not. All of this shows that our memories do not treat information alike.

Let's dive into the fascinating world of selective memory!

The basis of our identity is memory

Memories affect people. Not only in relation to general questions, but also in relation to beliefs and ideas about ourselves that shape our identity. We are our memories.

But our identity is not the sum of all the events in which we have been involved. We don't archive all the days of our lives the same way. Our memory is just not an exact record of what we have perceived, what is shown in it, that we only remember what was meaningful to us in some way. For this reason, our identity is based on a collection of memories, which in turn have been selected for us by selective memory.

"Memory is the only paradise from which we cannot be driven."

Jean Pau

When we think about our memories, we come to the conclusion that there are certain moments that we remember very clearly. However, there are others that seem less clear. And there are others that other people make us feel like we have completely erased them from our memories. But why do we only remember those events and not others?

  • The main reason is that in order to store information and be able to retrieve it later, our senses need to grasp it in detail. For this to happen, our attention and awareness must be focused on the incoming stimulus. If that is not the case, we will lose memories of what is happening.
  • Repetition is another factor that solidifies memories in our minds.
  • In addition, the selectivity seems to be based on the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. This occurs when we maintain two opposing opinions in our heads. It's a very uncomfortable feeling. In order to alleviate this negative feeling, we tend to reject either view by reinforcing the opposing belief, thus eliminating the conflict.

Why does our memory remember the good?

We feel guilty for doing something that violates our beliefs or feelings. What we then do is use our selective memory to find a way to represent the situation differently until we are convinced that ours was the only right decision. Even if we deeply wish that we have not made this decision, as we distort our thoughts, the memory of this decision is transformed into a positive one over time.

For our protection, our memory tends to remember the good and to remove from our memory the negative events that cause us pain. But not everything that hurts can be forgotten. Sometimes we also remember for reasons that are not immediately obvious. However, science has shown that it is possible to train our minds to forget unpleasant moments. This has been confirmed by the psychologist Gerd Thomas Waldhauser from the University of Lund (Sweden). This type of training plays in the Coming to terms with trauma a role and is very useful for people with symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

We can clearly see that the The function of selective memory is to make a selection of our memories. It puts every memory where it belongs. Some memories remain deeply hidden because we feel that they are not really important. Incidentally, that can change at a later point in time. Other memories are "put forward" in the likely event that we need to recall them soon.

Memory will always be selective because it is related to our emotions. But do we remember what we want or what our memory wants?

"Thanks to our memories we have what we call experience."


You might be interested in ...