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Stolen Memories

In the February 2006 issue of Genes, Brain and Behavior, an article which seeks to shed light on stolen memories, was published. The article was an attempt to scientifically answer the phenomenon which had been experienced mostly by twins.

A stolen memory would be one which is not actually yours but rather belongs to a sibling or maybe a friend although you sincerely believe that it is yours for keeps. Indeed, you do believe that you did or experienced something which never quite occurred to you in the first place. The University of Canterbury's Mercedes Sheen, a member of the research team, wrote in her 2002 Ph.D thesis:

'My own twin and I dispute a memory over a first kiss at summer camp when we were twelve. The boy in question was the 'camp catch' and although we both vehemently believe we were the one who was there, the event (one would hope) only happened to one of us.'

Hehe... ahem, anyway!

Unsurprisingly, the article pointed out that people tend to claim for themselves memories of achievements and suffered misfortunes while memories of personal wrongdoings are more likely to be attributed to others. In other words, people are quite selfish.

The article is based on 77 disputed memories. In most cases, two individuals were claiming the same memory. However there were other cases which involved giving away memories. The conclusions, published in the same article, are not as surprising as one might think. The disputes occurred mostly amongst females and this is so probably because women share memories more than men. It was also noted that parents usually were unable to resolve memory disputes, possibly because the conflicts were over mundane things and hence had not much importance. Of the bad memories, there is a very much stronger tendency to claim misfortunes as one's own than wrongdoings. Thus, the article concluded, memories could be described as self-serving because the good memories were fought over while the 'less good' ones were eagerly being attributed to others.

Stealing memories is done subconsciously and there now is a big problem: how do I know that Mrs X was my ex and not my brother's? Oh, what does it really matter anyway?

Khalil A. Cassimally — that's me — can be reached by dropping an email at [email protected]. Alternatively you can IM him via MSN/Windows Messenger or Google Talk, using this same email address. You may also visit his blog if you wish.

Other science issues (not too complicated don't you worry) can be found at:


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