Home > Memory > Reasons Behind One of the Many Reasons We Argue: Our Stories Don’t Match Up

Reasons Behind One of the Many Reasons We Argue: Our Stories Don’t Match Up

Artist: Marie Ling

           Constructive Memory

Have you ever recalled an event with a relative or friend and you both think the other is making stuff up or that something was off with their side of the story? Maybe one of you was exaggerating or adding in details to make it sound better or cooler.

Recalling events such as a holiday gathering or a vacation can become skewed. Imagine that when you broke your arm many years ago, and you remember it happening because you tripped while walking backward while your sibling remembers it as them pushing you. When this event comes up, you both argue            about what actually happened. Why do we remember things differently? 

Our memories are reconstructive, meaning that we piece them together rather than replaying memories as exact footage. Instead of memories being stored as a single chunk in the brain, the details are remembered separately. These details can be influenced by imagination, perception, biases, and other cognitive processes.

One reason you may be mentioning events that may have not happened is that you are mixing up your past reality and your imagined future. Neuroimaging has shown that the brain activity of remembering the past and imagining the future are very similar, showing that there is an overlap in the neural processes involved in generating the two (Schacter, 2012). Think of it as trying to recall what you had for dinner a few nights ago. You wished that you had a certain food, but had something else. As you try to recall it, you think of the sensations associated with both, throwing you off. They take similar paths as input and output, so sometimes they can get mixed up. Imagine it as reality as blue balls and imagination as green balls. Using tubing, your goal is to separate them into two jars, but the tube has a single opening that splits into two tubes by the end. Some of these balls may get mixed up initially and end up in the wrong jar. 

         Sometimes we think about doing something, forget, and think you already did.                      https://sites.google.com/site/eyewitnesstestimonywiki/d-false-memories 

What else influences our memories? Much of the things we see and hear become entangled with our memories. In a study done by Ceci, Loftus, Leichtman, and Bruck (1994), they examined why that is. Preschoolers were told events to picture in their heads, some that had happened to them and some that had never happened. When they were later told to recall events, a significant proportion of the children had believed they experienced the false events (Ceci, et al., 1994). This can be explained by the misattribution error, which is when an event is misidentified as a memory or the details surrounding an event are misidentified as part of it. 


                                                               Planting false memories                                                                                    https://neuroinsights.in/2017/07/23/understanding-false-memories/ 

Misinformation plays a big part in misattribution. Misinformation is false information. Like the children, you can be fed the misinformation, or you can just hear it from others as you go about your day. In school, one type of misinformation most of us have probably been exposed to is gossip. Even when we’re unsure whether the gossip is true or not, a part of us will believe that what occurred is plausible. The misattribution occurs when a person accidentally claims that information they obtained after an event was part of that experience (Henkel & Carbuto, 2008). For example, say you witnessed a fight, and someone else says that they saw one person throw a punch first that actually didn’t. When you recall the events later, you may remember the fight as that person starting the fight as well. We can also see how this works going back to one of our first examples with the broken arm. When your parents came to check up on you and your sibling because of the noise, your sibling could have been blamed for pushing you based on how it looked when the parents came to see what happened. Later on, when you both recall the events years later, they may remember themselves pushing you even though they didn’t.

Images also work pretty much the same way. We remember details in pictures and associate them with an event that we call a memory. For example, when you and your friends are talking about your vacations, you may also show pictures to each other while describing them. Later, you may recount that same story to someone else, filling in details that you saw from the pictures.

We also influence our memories, though it’s likely we also do not realize the influence we have on our them. Our inferences based on our biases, expectations, and so on affect the creation of false memories. A bias is our way of thinking of things in a certain way. When we remember our past selves, we may remember ourselves as thinking the same way we do now, affecting how we remember our past actions (Newman & Lindsay, 2009). When someone begins to think negatively or positively about someone, they might start seeing those actions that way when they look back on them, even if they had seen them the opposite way before. Also, when siblings disagree later in life, they may remember themselves as always fighting when they were younger even if they got along better back then. Similarly, if people expect others to act a certain way or to do something, they may later misremember their behaviors and actions later on.

Hopefully, knowing this information will resolve some of your conflicts. Maybe it’ll encourage you to think back on some of your memories and try to decide how much of them are true. But most importantly, it hopefully gives you a better understanding of the people around you. 



Ceci, S. J., Loftus, E. F., Leichtman, M. D., & Bruck, M. (1994). The possible role of source misattributions in the creation of false beliefs among preschoolers. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 42(4), 304–320. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207149408409361

Henkel, L. A., & Carbuto, M. (2008). Remembering what we did: How source misattributions arise from verbalization, mental imagery, and pictures. Applied memory, 213-234.

Newman, E. J., & Lindsay, D. S. (2009). False memories: What the hell are they for?. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 23(8), 1105-1121.

Schacter D. L. (2012). Constructive memory: past and future. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 14(1), 7–18.


Categories: Memory Tags: , ,
  1. No comments yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.