Sunday, September 19, 2010

Did I do that? Research suggests that watching is as good as doing, as far as memory goes.

In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers have found that watching someone else perform an action can get jumbled in the mind and turned into a personal memory.  This study adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human memory is surprisingly fallible. 

Isabel Lindner of the University of Cologne in Germany led a team of scientists at Jacobs University Bremen in a study probing the mechanisms of memory.  The study builds on previous research which suggests that passively watching an act creates neurological activity similar to actually performing the act.  Lindner and her team wondered whether passive watching could also turn into falsely remembering. 

They conducted studies on 57 participants to test whether they remembered performing an action, such as shaking a bottle.  Some participants watched a video in which a person shook a bottle, while others did not.  When questioned two weeks later, participants were much more likely to falsely remember having personally shook the bottle if they had watched the video. 

“We were stunned,” Gerald Echterhoff, a fellow scientist on the study, said in the press release from the Association for Psychological Science. 

The researchers noted that this sort of mental mix-up doesn’t happen all the time, and it’s no reason to distrust every recollection you have, but it’s important to understand the limits of human memory. 

“It’s good to have an informed doubt or informed skepticism about your memory performance,” Echterhoff, added, “So you don’t just easily trust whatever comes to your mind.” 

Images to come!


  1. I too seem to remember shaking a bottle. Is thinking the same as seeing?

  2. Oh don't even get me started on mirror neurons! If you have someone watch great squatting, and then have them squat, they'll squat better 'cause - on a low level - they just did.

    On the flipside, trainers have to constantly fight against getting shittier and shittier at movement because they spend all day watching their clients =) Go figure.