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Take off the rose-tinted glasses: Rosy retrospection and the fallibility of memory

April 26th, 2018 8 comments

If you’ve ever binge-watched The Office, you probably remember the moment in the series finale when Andy Bernard reflects on his days at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Thinking back on his past – on the friends he made and the fun times he had – he says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Is he right? At the moment he said it, was Andy living in the “good old days?” Why will he be able to think back on that moment as if it were the “good old days” if he can’t see it right now? Five years from now, will we be looking back on 2018 like it was the “good old days?” Cognitive psychology has an answer: yes.

Allow me to explain: we often tend to remember and recollect past events in a more favorable light than when they actually occur. This is called rosy retrospection – have you ever heard of the idiom “to see through rose-tinted glasses?” It refers to the tendency to see something in a positive light, often better than it actually is. This memory bias applies to all of us – and it explains why we often recall the past much more fondly than the present. More generally, rosy retrospection represents one example of the way memory is not as accurate or reliable as we would like to believe. Memory is surprisingly fallible.
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