Selective Memory

Selective Memory – brain blog article by Bella Blumenschein


It is crazy to think about how our brains physically change when we form memories. When studying this process, we learn about how the neuroanatomical processes help us create these memories and store them in different brain regions. Even more fascinating is the fact that some of our memories are not even accurate, and we sometimes genuinely believe in stuff that never even happened, or happened in a completely different way. Facts, events, or specific stimuli are called declarative memories, and those declarative memories of personal events specific to a time and place in our past are labeled episodic memories. When we talk about selective memory, we refer to these events in our past, but not everything we experience is actually stored in our brains. Instead there are several factors that lead us to remember some, and forget about others.  My goal here, however, is not to list the different potential triggers of selective memory, but instead focus on the one that intrigues me the most.


It is known that the parts of the brain such as the amygdala and cerebellum that are responsible for emotional arousal are also involved in the consolidation of memories. However, I wonder until what point is this process a physiological and chemical one. It is sometimes hard for me to believe everything that happens inside our heads is just a product of nature, especially when it comes to the way our emotions manifest themselves and influence how other processes work. It is easier to comprehend that in general, events that are emotionally charged, such as the car accident I was in over ten years ago, are vividly remembered, while I wouldn’t be able to tell you whatever boring thing I was doing at this time last month. This seems evolutionarily beneficial.


What does not seem to make sense to me is how when we develop feelings towards something, somewhere, or someone, we tend to shape our memories around the way we idealize them, and forget whatever does not coordinate with these idealizations. Is that biological or do we do it to ourselves in the sense that we force our minds to remember some stuff and forget others? To put into perspective, in a relationship I experienced in which we both hurt each other to the point of becoming very distant and not talking anymore, whenever I think of the situation, I remember everything I did that could’ve ruined it, and do not have one single memory of being hurt by that person without it having been my fault. My friends, however, are able to recall and tell me about various of these situations and even with them reporting them to me, I do not seem to remember experiencing that. What I remember from our relationship is the fact that I screwed up many times, and feel the guilt of being fully responsible for us growing apart. Till this day I wonder, how did my brain mechanisms influence the way I remember this experience in a certain way, without letting me see any differently.


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