A report on Science Daily explores the ways images from memory are represented either as seen as they were experienced, that is, through our own eyes, or observed as a third person.
“If memory was simply an exact recollection of our experiences, one would think that we would recall our early memories from the first-person perspective,” said Peggy St Jacques, assistant professor in the Faculty of Science’s Department of Psychology. “Recalling a memory is not like watching a film of what happened. We edit and modify memories each time we recall them.”
The perspective through we which recall our memories — either seeing it through our own eyes in the first person, or viewing as an observer in the third person — can have an effect on the vividness and potency of the memory, with stronger recollection when perceived in the first person.
“A number of studies have shown that this can impact how we later recall these memories,” said St Jacques, who recently authored a paper exploring this phenomenon. “Viewing memories in the third person tends to reduce the vividness of that experience, as well as the amount of emotion that we feel. Our memory system is very dynamic and flexible.”
“And that’s probably a good thing, St Jacques explained. Our ability to edit our memories allows us to grow and change how we perceive both ourselves and our experiences. For example, by changing the way we feel about a troubling memory, we’re able to learn and move forward, helping those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as just one example.
“So, the next time you recall a memory in the third person, ask yourself if that memory is real or not. “It’s possible because you’re not recalling that experience through your own eyes that the memory is distorted in some way,” she said. “There could be some aspects that are false or edited.”
The next steps in the research will be carried out using virtual reality as a way of providing immersive experiences. It is of great interest this approach coming close to a phenomenological viewpoint but also proposing the introduction of intentional modifications in the way the consciousness manages its own images. It also refers to the plasticity of memories, which are not literal and fixed but evolve over time.
The active consciousness
For those engaged in the process of giving more strength and clarity to their images of building a better society the awareness that memories can change over time is of great importance. We know that often images of the future are compensations for painful memories, creating compulsions and fixed images. Being able to reduce the distress associated to memories can give a person more freedom to choose intentionally images for the future. But, conversely, it has been also observed in studies carried out by the Psychology of New Humanism that positive images of the future are capable of modifying distressing memories. The study of these mechanisms of consciousness taking place in the Space of Representation are part of the process of elevating the level of consciousness of individuals and society as a whole.