Science

Playing memory games on this week’s TED Radio Hour

TED-Radio-Hour-memory

Photo: v u O n g / Flickr CC

How do you keep memories? And how much can you trust those preservations? This week’s TED Radio Hour, “Memory Games,” looks at recollections versus actual experiences, sorts through our tendency to create false memories, and unpacks how we can actually enhance our ability to remember.

Forensic psychologist Scott Fraser starts the hour. He is the guy called upon by attorneys or prosecutors when they have issues with a witness’s statement. Fraser discusses the importance of implanted memories — believing that you remember something that is the result of “post-experience information” — which is akin to what happens when a photograph or a story from our parents lead us to recall an experience that we may not actually remember. These false memories may seem innocent enough, but when on the witness stand of a murder trial, it could lead to wrongful conviction.

Next, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman reveals his insights into the space between experience and memory. He has found that, typically, the end of an experience is what is most important. In other words — a beautiful, moving symphony with a screeching sound at the end will not be remembered fondly. Kahneman gives an evolutionary explanation for this phenomenon. And in an unmissable part of the interview, he also shares a remarkable story from his youth — as a 7-year-old Jewish boy in occupied Paris, he remembers being hugged by an SS soldier. His various memories of this moment differ, and always serve to remind him that human nature isn’t always black or white.

To close the show, writer and US Memory Champion Joshua Foer describes how he remembers mundane details, like a group of random numbers, by associating each with an imagined grotesque, creepy, or outlandish act occurring in his various rooms in his childhood home. Think: cookie monster riding a horse in his kitchen. These striking images give him something notable to associate with an ordinary memory. This practice has been used by memory champions as far back as Ancient Greece, and anyone can use this tool. If you want to have good memory, says Foer, all you need to do is practice.

Check your local NPR schedule to find out when the show airs today, or listen via NPR’s website »

Or head to iTunes where the podcast is available now »