In our Alzheimer's traumatized society, each memory block, error, or delay seems like a deadly sign that soon we will not remember anything. Professor Schacter gently points out that our memories are not and never were nearly as good as we like to think they were or are. If you are like me, you will probably have to reduce your memory potential in your own mind by more than 50 percent. Rather than making us feel deficient for these problems, we can find solace in the general prevalence of these issues. In particular, we can also do better by relying on the latest research based on actively scanning brains that are remembering in order to see what happens physically and mentally.
As the title indicates, Professor Schacter examines seven specific quirks of memory. These are transience (memories fading), absent-mindedness (being distracted from the business at hand and forgetting what we did automatically), blocking (not being able to remember a name when about to make an introduction), misattribution (confusion about who did what and when), suggestibility (turning questions and new experiences into "old" memories), bias (being influenced by what's going on now or our stereotypes), and persistence (not being able to get rid of bad memories that haunt us, such as the "shell shock" of the World War II veteran).
The format for each chapter is the same. The chapter opens with an example of the issue being examined that was in the news in the last 10 years. The bulk of the chapter describes the available physical research (starting with people with unusual brains and results of rare brain surgeries and including animal studies and functional magnetic resonance imaging with humans). The findings are modified to reflect strategies that have been found to improve memory effectiveness. Finally, the advantages of these memory weaknesses are explored.
I didn't always like the popular examples. For example, I really didn't need to hear again about former president Clinton's testimony about how often he met with Ms. Lewinsky alone in the White House.
The final chapter summarizes the pros and cons of each type of memory fallibility, and veers off into evolutionary speculations and other academic debates. I could have skipped most of this material.
On the one hand, the quality of what is shared is revealing, detailed, and helpful. Everyone should read this book.
On the other hand, this book would have been a lot better if it had focused more on being a memory improvement guide. When Professor Schacter was sharing how those who use various memory enhancement techniques fare (versus how they think they fare), the book was riveting. At other times, The Seven Sins of Memory just seemed unnecessarily detailed for a nonscientific audience.
I appreciated that Professor Schacter avoided treating human memory like it is part of a computer, as some people who study psychology do.
After you read this book, I suggest that you conduct some of the memory experiments described here to help you get a better sense of where you can and cannot rely as well on your memory.
Whether your memory is good or awful, remember to forgive yourself when you make memory errors!...