Which one believes his or her version more strongly is no tipoff to what really happened, experts say.
“Confidence is not a good guide to whether or not someone is telling the truth,” said Nora Newcombe, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “If they think they’re telling the truth, they could plausibly both be confident about it.”
In a situation where a woman fears being raped by a man, her memories might be shaped by that fear into a recollection that overestimates the threat, whereas the man might consider it “just playing around” and forget it, said David Rubin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
And both people could be completely honest about their recollections, he said.
Rubin noted the obvious fact that people can forget things they did while drunk. But he said the man in that scenario could forget about the event even if he had been sober.
Experts in memory and the brain said Ford’s quick tour of memory machinery was generally correct. Levels of the brain substances she cited go up when a person is alarmed, and they help memories become laid down more strongly in the hippocampus, said Elizabeth Phelps, a Harvard University psychologist.
That helps people vividly recall central parts of an emotional experience, while details are typically lost, said Lila Davachi of Columbia University.
While it’s clear the hippocampus is key to the initial laying down of memory, there’s some debate about its role in long-term memory, Phelps said. Various pieces of an experience — sounds, sights and thoughts — are perceived in different parts of the brain. And initially the hippocampus serves as sort of the center of a web that holds those perceptions together as a memory, she said.
After years pass and the memory becomes consolidated, it’s not clear whether the hippocampus continues to play that central role, or whether the various parts of a memory are connected by other means, she said.
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