Tuesday, 25 October 2016

"I remember it well"

Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in Gigi (1958)
sing "I Remember It Well"
When Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold reminisce about their younger days in the musical Gigi, it is clear that despite Chevalier's insistence that he remembers it well, their memories differ considerably in detail and precision.  Such variation in how precisely we can remember previous events is not only an affliction of older adults: we are all used to the vagaries of our memories, with some events remembered with crystal clarity and others recalled only indistinctly.

Studies of human memory often focus on how we remember some experiences but forget others, distinguishing only between ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ memory. However, as Chevalier and Gingold demonstrate, our memory for successfully remembered events can vary widely in quality, differing in the kinds of detail we can remember and how precise our memory for those details is. In addition to these ‘objective’ measures of how well we remember, our memory for an event can also subjectively feel more or less vivid to us based on our conscious experience of reliving the episode, regardless of how accurate our memory actually is. To date, there has been limited understanding of how such substantial differences in memory accuracy and experience occur.