The latest in my ‘Learn Something New Every Day’ series – taken from The Great Courses’ “Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works” (Lecture 28: Human Memory and Eye-witness Accounts)
There are two layers of memory –
Short-term memories are happening now. Immediate and immediately past. Often these memories are not fully processed by the brain because they seem unimportant (like a stranger walking past you into a bank).
But if something happens to make them more important (like that person then robs the bank) the memories can be moved into your long-term/permanent memory.
The problem arises when the total amount of information about the apparently unimportant incident is upgraded from short-term to long-term memory it may be incomplete and it’s in our nature to try and fill the blanks. This is where incorrect witness recollection becomes a problem. Whether or not we remember an event or person accurately (or at all) depends on how our brains dealt with the information at the time of the encounter.