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Revising Memories

by Phyllis Pollack
February 2014

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack
Once again, another study has been published revealing that our memories are not accurate; they rewrite history incorporating present events.

Earlier this month, several different news articles including Northwestern University News and The Times of India reported a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience on February 5, 2014 by lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine showing that "... the memory rewrites the past with current information, updating your recollections with new experiences...." (Id.) It is "...a wily time traveler, plucking fragments of the present and inserting them into the past." ( Id. at The Times of India)

To conduct her study and thus reach her conclusions, Dr. Bridge had:

"... 17 men and women stud[y] 168 object locations on a computer screen with varied backgrounds such as an underwater ocean scene or aerial view of Midwest farmland.

Next, researchers asked participants to try to place the object in the original location but on a new background screen. Participants would always place the objects in an incorrect location.

Finally, participants were shown the object in three locations on the original screen and asked to choose the correct location. Their choices were: the location they originally saw the object, the location they placed it in part 2 or a brand new location.

"People always chose the location they picked in part 2," Bridge said.

"This shows their original memory of the location has changed to reflect the location they recalled on the new background screen. Their memory has updated the information by inserting the new information into the old memory," Bridge said. (Id.)

According to Dr. Bridge, this is the first study that shows specifically "... the exact point in time when ..." incorrect information is imputed into our memories. (Id.)

So, once again, in recalling the facts surrounding a dispute, beware; our memories are not what we think they are, and unknowingly, our memories will revise the history of what happened and/or how it happened. To resolve the dispute, it will help NOT to be adamant about the facts giving rise to it. Rather... focus on the future to get it settled. Our memories, while they may be time travelers to the past, have not yet become time travelers to the future.

.... Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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Additional articles by Phyllis Pollack