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<xTITLE>Memory, Look a New Day has Begun: What's the Role of the Past in Conflict Resolution?</xTITLE>

Memory, Look a New Day has Begun: What's the Role of the Past in Conflict Resolution?

by Stephanie West Allen
July 2012

  • Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

    Stephanie West Allen

    Memory is studied in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology—a lot! In fact, it is hard to keep current with all the research and related articles. Today I will post a goulash of memory-related links. Why? Because the past, the stories we tell about what happened, are typically an integral part of conflict.

    Therefore, a basic skill of mediation is the ability to integrate these memories into models of conflict resolution. In order to do so, it is helpful (probably essential) to understand memory's fallibility and choose how to navigate with our clients its slipperiness. Navigate is an apt verb because a memory changes like the ocean's waves, always new each time it forms.

    To spur your thinking about memory today, let's start with a somewhat surprising article Anthony Barnhart, cognitive psychologist cum magician, was kind enough to bring to my attention. Abstract from "What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population" (PLoS ONE):

    Incorrect beliefs about the properties of memory have broad implications: The media conflate normal forgetting and inadvertent memory distortion with intentional deceit, juries issue verdicts based on flawed intuitions about the accuracy and confidence of testimony, and students misunderstand the role of memory in learning. We conducted a large representative telephone survey of the U.S. population to assess common beliefs about the properties of memory. Substantial numbers of respondents agreed with propositions that conflict with expert consensus: Amnesia results in the inability to remember one’s own identity (83% of respondents agreed), unexpected objects generally grab attention (78%), memory works like a video camera (63%), memory can be enhanced through hypnosis (55%), memory is permanent (48%), and the testimony of a single confident eyewitness should be enough to convict a criminal defendant (37%). This discrepancy between popular belief and scientific consensus has implications from the classroom to the courtroom.

    Click here and here to read overviews of this article.

    As you can see from the survey, many people believe memory works like a video camera. Want to demonstrate that it

    Continue reading "Memory, look a new day has begun*: What's the role of the past in conflict resolution?" »


    Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive with Center co-founder Gary Friedman. She has been a mediator for over two and one-half decades.

    She is the author of Triversity Fantasy — Seven Keys To Unlock Prejudice, Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook and many articles on workplace and professional issues for such publications as Lawyer Hiring and Training Report, Colorado Nurse, The Complete Lawyer, National Law Journal, Of Counsel, Law Practice and Denver Business Journal.

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    Additional articles by Stephanie West Allen