There Are Reasons Our Memory isn’t Perfect

For one thing, we prefer the cliff notes of events that pertain to the future

Katrina Paulson
5 min readJul 16, 2022


Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Memory is endlessly fascinating to me. You probably know the evolutionary reason we can remember anything all — it’s a survival skill. Remembering the past helps us prepare for the future, ideally at least. You also probably know that our memory isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s not even all that reliable.

How often have you misremembered an event, or an answer slipped out of your mind? Why does our brain do this? Wouldn’t objectively accurate memories keep us safer than ones that can be manipulated, are glitchy, and only offers a subjective recollection of our experiences? It turns out there are reasons behind our brains’ apparent flaws.

Memory Can Be Influenced

I may have told you before that I’ve kept a regular journal since fourth grade. Over the years, I’ve pulled them out to revisit my past and see what my younger self decided was important enough to document, and I can’t tell you how often what I wrote about an event conflicts with what I remember today. For one reason or another, my memories have warped.

Then again, it’s not just me. I just happen to have a written record of my life’s events to experience this phenomenon. But no one remembers everything perfectly because human memory is easily influenced. This study from 2004 found that our memories of an event can be influenced when we’re asked questions afterward.

“The results suggest that questions asked immediately after an event can introduce new — not necessarily correct — information, which is then added to the memorial representation of the event, thereby causing its reconstruction or alteration.”

I’m a verbal processor, which is why journaling works well for me. Still, I often talk my problems out with friends or family before coming to a solution. So, it’s possible I conversed with others after journaling, and those conversations influenced my memory of the events.

Usually, every single detail of an experience doesn’t matter. What matters, and what our brain tends to remember, is the gist of a situation and the outcome. This allows us to compare situations later on when…



Katrina Paulson

I wonder about humanity, questions with no answers, and new discoveries. Then I write about them here and on substack!