Washington D.C. , Apr 5 : People, who struggle to recall a memory, don't feel guilty! A new study has revealed that memories fade in quality over time just like old photographs.
According to the study, published in an online edition of the journal Psychological Science, people also reported a decline in the vibrancy and visual qualities of their memories.
When people remember the past, they remember it with varying degrees of clarity, said Maureen Ritchey, a co-author of the study.
"Sometimes people remember lots of details about an event as if they are reliving the moment as it happened. Other times, it seems like the memory has faded, and the details are fuzzy," said Ritchey.
Prior memory research has shown that emotionally significant events like a car accident are remembered more vividly than everyday events.
"We wanted to know whether this feeling of memory vividness is related to not just what is remembered, but how it is remembered - the visual quality of the memory," added Ritchey.
Ritchey said people reported changes to their memories akin to using a filter to edit a picture.
"A simple analogy is what happens when you post a photo on Instagram. You're cued to apply a filter that changes the brightness or colour saturation of the image. In our study, we asked if forgetting is like applying a filter to past experience, and whether or not the emotional significance of the event would change which filter you apply," Ritchey explained.
In three experiments, participants studied emotionally negative and neutral images that varied in visual quality, luminance and colour saturation. They then reconstructed the visual qualities of each image in a subsequent test.
The findings revealed that memories were recollected as less visually vibrant than they were encoded, demonstrating a novel memory-fading effect, the researchers reported.
These findings provide evidence that the vibrancy of low-level details, such as colours and shapes associated with an event, fade in memory while the gist of the experience is retained.
People may remember going to a music festival and watching their favourite band, but the intensity of that sensory experience, including the bright stage lights and strength of the bass, will slowly fade.
"We found that memories seem to literally fade: people consistently remembered visual scenes as being less vibrant than they were originally experienced," said Rose Cooper, a researcher.
"We had expected that memories would get less accurate after a delay, but we did not expect that there would be this qualitative shift in the way that they were remembered," added Cooper.
The fading effect happened less for memories that were rated as subjectively stronger.
"We were also surprised to find that emotional memories did not influence the amount of fading, only the likelihood with which people remembered the images at all," she said.
Cooper and Ritchey said the team's next step is to figure out what exactly drives the memory fading effect.
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