Memory fades with time. Right? It makes sense. There are lots of memories that were crystal clear immediately after they happened, but are now foggy. You’ve probably studied immediately before a test and done well only to find weeks or months later that you can’t recall the information that you had previously known so well.
In the American Psychologist, Mathew Hugh Erdelyi describes a contradictory phenomena with memory. Memory, it seems, also improves with time. According to Erdelyi as time passes it becomes both worse and better.
It seems that some memories recalled immediately are later forgotten. And some memories that are forgotten immediately are later recalled. So how does this happen. Improvement is only sometimes found, largely dependent the content of the memory. Random and nonsense memories generally fade with time. Meaningful and emotionally laden memories can improve with time.
So can you trust your memory of an argument with your mother or the recollection that your brother stole your Christmas presents when you were 10? Does that mean that repressed memories are accurate or that witnesses can actually add to information about a case long after the original crime? According to Erdelyi, not all memories are to be trusted. Recall over time is “noisy.” We have both “true” memories and “false” alarms. If there is no way to check the facts, it’s impossible to determine whether memory is true or false.
The perversity of human memory is that over time memory both improves and declines. And over time memory is both accurate and distorted.