Home > Memory > Is raising a puppy actually as much fun as you think it is? Rosy Retrospection will lead you to say yes.

Is raising a puppy actually as much fun as you think it is? Rosy Retrospection will lead you to say yes.

Do you really want to adopt that puppy?

During the summer of 2020 Covid-19 quarantine, one of the most popular ideas floating around online to help pass the time was to adopt or foster a new animal. But, did people remember how difficult that task actually is? Do they remember all those early mornings, pee puddles, and chewed up furniture? Rosy retrospection may explain why people were likely to adopt despite the difficulty of raising and training a new animal. Rosy retrospection is the process by which we remember past events as generally better than they were by forgetting or downplaying the negative aspects. Before I get into all the definitions, think about whether you have ever participated in something that is difficult mentally or physically while you do it, but then somehow when you look back on it, it doesn’t seem so bad and you’d do it again? This could be adopting an animal, running a marathon, or helping a friend move. In the moment, you are aware of the discomfort and negative aspects, but in the future you are willing to do it again because you remember the best parts of the experience. I’m going to be using the example of raising a new puppy to highlight how rosy retrospection and a few other aspects of memory can change how we view the past. 

To begin, it’s important to understand that memory is a reconstructive process. This means that when we store our memories in long-term memory, they are broken apart and stored as pieces of information in different areas of the brain, oftentimes associated with sensory information such as sights, tastes, or smells. When we bring a memory back out of storage, we must put all the pieces back together and reconstruct the original event. However, there are frequently holes in these reconstructed memories from information that we either didn’t store or can’t access later. The information may be missing because of a lack of attention during encoding or because there are insufficient cues to activate the memory piece. Thus, the information is lost and we fill in these holes with information that matches the gist of the memory, even if the information is false.


Reconstructive memory can leave holes that false memories then fill in.

By filling in these holes we create false memoriesIt’s important to note that the creation of false memories is automatic and not inside our awareness, meaning, we are unaware of the changes and of false memories being inserted. Part of the reason we don’t notice the changes is because we believe our memories to be true unless we are provided with evidence they are wrong (TEDx Talks, 2013). False memories can lead us down the wrong path if we fill in important information, but they can also be fairly harmless and instead helpful. False memories are helpful in that they give us a full memory, not one filled with holes, which could be confusing. A false memory may be as simple as thinking you saw pink flowers instead of yellow when on a walk. The color being incorrect isn’t very important and probably won’t impact you in any significant way. False memories are similar to rosy retrospection in that our memories are changing over time when our memories get reconstructed. However they differ in that rosy retrospection changes the emphasis on what is reconstructed, favoring the good and downplaying the bad, whereas a false memory is new information that isn’t true or didn’t occur. With the puppy example, a false memory could be that your last puppy would always chew on the dining room table, when it was actually the living room table. The memory is incorrect, but it’s also likely an insignificant change for the overall point is that they chewed on the table, which you still remember. In contrast, rosy retrospection would cause you to forget how frequently they chewed on the table, instead remembering how cutely they would nap on the couch under a blanket. Rosy retrospection isn’t creating new memories, it is merely changing what is most salient when you reconstruct them. 

Schacter’s Seven Sins of Memory

Related to false memories are Schacter’s seven sins of memory. Schacter proposed seven sins of memory, which are seven flaws that arise as by-products of our essential memory processes (Schacter & Dodson, 2001). One of Schacter’s sins that is most relevant to the changes in our memory over time is bias. Bias is the incorporation of information in the present that changes how we view past events. Most people will hold a number of biases that stem from their preexisting knowledge from what they have experienced in the world (Schacter, 1999). The biases someone holds are not inherently bad, rather they are different lenses that change how you view information or events based on your prior knowledge. Not only can bias come from our knowledge, but it can stem from our current moods or emotions (Schacter, 1999). One example of bias could be the way you view a past relationship because of the way it ended. The negative feelings about the break-up then color the way you view the earlier memories that may have been happy at the time. Your knowledge of the breakup and hurt emotions that you hold in the present, impact the way you view the past memories too. Biases can be harmful if they are formed from false information, but can also be beneficial in that they apply the new information you have learned to past experiences where you may have been less informed. Bias is similar to rosy retrospection in that both can impact the way past memories are viewed. However, rosy retrospection is specifically emphasizing the positive aspects of past events, while downplaying the negative aspects, and is not necessarily incorporating any new information, opinions or emotions. Bias on the other hand can be more general in its impact on memory with positive, negative, or neutral influence due to the new information or emotional states of the present. To use the puppy example, you might look back at memories of adopting a puppy as a terrible experience if you had just recently stepped in a big puddle of pee barefoot. The present event and mood associated with stepping in puppy pee would bias how you viewed the entire event of adopting a puppy. A few days later, you might meet your friend’s brand new puppy who falls asleep in your arms. This experience could then introduce a positive bias and make you want a puppy again. Biases can change as your experiences, information, and emotional states change. Rosy retrospection, in contrast, is a more stable change to our memories that is not based on exterior forces. 

Rosy retrospection helps to explain how our memories change overtime, but it can have both positive effects and potential consequences. Rosy retrospection can be helpful in that it reduces our negative feelings about a past event, and helps us to remember the best parts instead. By focusing on the best parts of the past, we contribute to our present well-being because we are thinking about good and happy memories that make us feel better (Mitchell et al., 1997). Like when thinking back about raising that puppy, you remember the cuteness and the games and the cuddles and all the best parts without getting as much of the negative emotions like frustration or exhaustion. These positive emotions created from rosy retrospection can make us more likely to repeat a decision even if there are some negative aspects of that event while it’s occurring (Lemm & Wirtz, 2013). However, there can be dangers to rosy retrospection such as not learning from past mistakes (Mitchell et al., 1997). If the detrimental aspects of past memories are forgotten or ignored, then we are more likely to repeat and end up in the same situation again facing the same negative emotions or event. This repetition could be detrimental if the event you repeat is harmful or dangerous. Studies suggest, however, that rosy retrospection is more prevalent in already positive events, rather than being able to change an overall negative memory into a positive one (Mitchell et al., 1997). Meaning, if an experience is dangerous and detrimental, those negative emotions are less likely to fade and be overshadowed by positive ones than an experience that is primarily positive with few negative emotions. All together, rosy retrospection can be a beneficial process that helps us to hold onto the best of our past memories and improve our present, but can lead us into trouble if we don’t learn from that past.  


So next time you think about adopting that cute puppy or kitten you see online, make sure you take off those rose tinted glasses and see the whole picture. Your memory may be letting you forget all the late nights, potty accidents and chewed up shoes, just because they do look really cute in a costume.



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