Preliminary results are in from a huge online experiment designed to test a flaw in the way the brain stores memories.
Earlier this year, The Guardian launched an online memory experiment on this blog. We had an extraordinary response. In the three weeks the experiment was live, tens of thousands of people of all ages and from all around the world took part, making it one of the biggest memory experiments ever conducted. Although we’ve only had a couple of weeks to process the responses, here’s a sneak preview of the numbers from a sample of 27,000 participants.
First, though, what was the experiment really about?
Among the most surprising discoveries about memory has been the realisation that remembering a past event is not like picking a DVD off the shelf and playing it back. Remembering involves a process of reconstruction. We store assorted features of an event as representations that are distributed around the brain.
In simple terms, visual features are represented near the back of the brain in the areas specialised for visual processing; sounds in auditory processing regions close to the ears; and smells in the olfactory system that lies behind the nose.