Sunday, June 29, 2008

Public service announcement: Your brain lies to you

Samuel Wang and Sandra Aamodt (authors of Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life) have a fairly interesting and useful piece in the NYT entitled "Your Brain Lies to You". None of this will be new to those familiar with the heuristics and biases research literature, but the article is certainly useful as a 'public service announcement': it's important to popularize the finding that we are fallible, liable to lapses of memory and subject to all sorts of biases. A representative paragraph from the article:
The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.
(See also: Wang and Aamodt's blog and their talk at Google).

1 comment: