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Brain Beat - National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation EPISODE 2, 14th September 2021
Updating The Seven Sins of Memory with Dr. Daniel Schacter
00:00:00 00:53:50

Updating The Seven Sins of Memory with Dr. Daniel Schacter

Updating The Seven Sins of Memory with Dr. Daniel Schacter


Dr. Daniel Schacter, professor and past chair of psychology at Harvard University and world leader in the neuroscience of memory, joins Heidi on the podcast today to provide an update on his now 20 year old seminal work, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Schacter has made pioneering contributions that have shaped our understanding of memory, and his work, including over 400 peer-reviewed articles, has garnered numerous accolades, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He has received several awards for his research, including the Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions from the American Psychological Association, and he has recently completed an updated 20th anniversary edition about the Seven Sins of Memory that will be published in the fall.


Today, Dr. Schacter begins by sharing what he has learned about memory since he first published his book, reviewing the seven sins, and highlighting his most surprising findings regarding them. He then conducts a masterclass on memory, addressing such topics as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), the impact of the pandemic, recent media and political messaging, technology, and virtual learning upon our memories, as well as the role memory plays in such complex situations as racism. He also explores memory’s role in imagining our future, how its vices can also be virtues, the projects he is most excited about currently, and finishes up by sharing his advice regarding brain and memory health. An undisputed expert in the field, Dr. Schacter has most likely forgotten more about memory than many of us actually know about it, rendering this truly an episode you will not soon forget.


Episode Highlights:


  • What Dr. Schacter has learned over the past two decades about the ways memory is imperfect
  • The seven sins of memory
  • His most unexpected findings
  • Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), anti-transcience, and the struggles of those who exhibit them
  • How our memories of the tumultuous events of the past year and a half might play out in our lives
  • How media or political messaging after the election or the Capitol Riot might affect memories of those events
  • How the sins of memory play a role in our understanding of, or reaction to, such complex situations as our troubled history with racism
  • How the ubiquitous nature of technology has changed our memory
  • Differences in our memory for things that we did or learned virtually
  • The impact on the memory of having a copious photographic record of your life
  • How the vices of memory can also be virtues
  • Memory’s role in imagining our future
  • The role of emotion in memory
  • Techniques we can use to improve memory
  • The projects in his lab that he is most excited about at the moment
  • Dr. Schacter’s advice regarding brain/memory health





“I was impressed that in looking back over 20 years by how much more we've learned both at the basic science level, and also at the applied level.”


“What really seems to be different about these folks compared to most of us is that they lose information about their personal experiences over time much more slowly than most of us do.”


“It turns out that testing memory, practicing retrieval, boosts long term recall.”


“It turns out that it might be that there's kind of a self-testing or retrieval practice effect that accounts for the Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory folks remembering this stuff from the remote past so well.”


“The thought was that it may not be such a good thing to have this kind of extraordinary memory ability, because you've got all this stuff floating around your mind, and it might prevent you or inhibit you from functioning at a more abstract level, because you have so much concrete detail.”


“Persistence, which is the seventh of the seven sins can be really, psychologically, quite crippling when we have a difficult or traumatic experience, and then we just can't stop it from coming to mind.”


“I suspect that memory for a lot of events, you know, within a period of COVID, won't exhibit persistence - it'll just be kind of a fuzzy faded memory.”


“We have many laboratory studies dating back to some of the classic work of Elizabeth Loftus, first in the 1970s, showing how misinformation can contaminate memory.”


“I think we can see in those kinds of findings that some of what we knew already from cognitive psychology, about creation of false memories can interact with our pre-existing knowledge now, so that we're biased to remember, one way or another.”


“Basically, what it shows is that many of us are, most of us will, tend to preferentially associate certain positive or negative attributes with, for example, different races.”


“Something seems to be happening out there in society, in these last 20 years or so, where these implicit biases may be, because of the way we discuss it and what's presented in media, are tempering a bit.”


“I think there is some evidence that in certain situations, there can be a negative impact of technology on memory, but it's not nearly as general or broad as some people might have you think.”


“Who would ever think you could possibly forget that your baby's in the backseat, but this only started when it became necessary to put car seats in the back seat that were no longer allowed in the front seat. And that took away kind of a reminder cue - you wouldn't think it would be necessary - but this is absentmindedness. It’s very cue dependent.”


“On the bright side, I think you can say that technology can help by being able to provide reminders, you know, that can even prevent death in this extreme case.”


I think that photo review can prove memory for an event that actually happened, it can possibly impair memory for related events that aren't retrieved, and in the case, for example, of looking at somebody else's Instagram, you might become convinced that you participated in an event that you really didn't participate in.”


“Memory is not really just about the past. The key function of memory is to allow us to think ahead and to simulate future events. So we want to be able to use our past experience in a flexible way, recombine elements of past experiences, so we can simulate novel upcoming events.”


“When we misattribute by mixing up elements of two different events, what we might be seeing there is a feature of memory that is actually very adaptive when we want to use memory flexibly to recombine information and run simulations of novel events.”


“A lot of the processes that underlie remembering the past also underlie imagining the future.”


“There's good evidence to believe that our episodic memories or memories, for particular experiences can be helpful in boosting our ability to think creatively.”


“Staying active, using our memory when we can, but also, you know, relying on external devices in ways that can be beneficial.”


“Something that has been shown to impact brain structures involved in memory and memory performance is simple aerobic exercise.”





National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation website


The Seven Sins of Memory


The Seven Sins of Memory: An Update

Project Implicit

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