Sleep deprivation at retrieval, but not sleep following learning, critically enhanced false memories of theme words. This effect was abolished by caffeine administration prior to retrieval.
Dave wonders whether witnesses in trials should be force-fed caffeine to improve their testimony? Certainly, when I was a litigator, I always had coffee before going to court, but it was mainly to make sure I kept awake.
I’m also interested in the correlation between sleep deprivation and false memories. Memory is a strange thing.
As a litigator, I was always struck by the detailed recall required by legal testimony, and the unlikelihood of many people having that kind of recall. And one could sometimes see people reinventing memories on the witness stand to suit their own version of what happened, although it was also equally clear that they believed they were telling the absolute truth. But what they were saying was sometimes quite different to what they had said in contempraneous correspondence. I don’t know whether it was “false” memories or whether it was just another example of the capacity of people to delude themselves.
I am told I have an unreliable memory for events. Although the broad brush of what happens is there, I forget exactly who did what. Or I get confused and think I did something, when it was actually my sister. In addition, I have a tendency to exaggerate when I’m emotional about something. I see that my daughter also has this tendency; it’s quite funny to see it in another. I’d be a terrible trial witness. The thing is that I’m not lying. I believe what I am saying.
Perhaps I should drink more caffeine, although at the moment I am rather limited by pregnancy. During my A-Levels, I literally drank 15 cups a day. The day exams finished, my Mum hid the coffee until I was less addicted.
I am not very good at remembering where I put things. I seem to spend half my life looking for my keys or my glasses, whereas my husband almost never loses his. The funny thing was when all my relatives were in Melbourne for my wedding, and a giant search for glasses eventuated at one point (aunts, grandmother, mother, sister, me). I actually have a bell on my car keys so that I can shake my bag and hear whether it is in there before I go searching other places. My mother once tied a wooden spoon to her work key so as not to misplace it. I can’t remember whether it worked or not. I only ever have one handbag because I know that if I had to transfer things back and forth, the result would be pandemonium. And it’s not good to misplace one’s Epipen and asthma spray: so I just leave them in the same pocket of the same bag every day.
I also never remember what people are wearing (unless it’s really outrageous). When I was younger and went out clubbing, I had a friend who would notice that kind of detail. She’d say, “Hey, did you notice that guy in the green shirt checking us out?” Not only would I fail to notice someone checking us out, but I had no recollection of what anyone had been wearing. I might have known who she was talking about if she had said “that tall guy with the curly hair and glasses”, but obviously clothing doesn’t register on my list of mnemonic identifiers.
I’m terrible with phone numbers, PINs, dates and birthdays. I even forgot my own birthday once. Seriously. My Dad thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t. Don’t get offended if I don’t remember your birthday – it’s nothing personal – I just don’t remember numbers or dates very well. I couldn’t remember the date of my wedding anniversary the other day (so my hubby is never going to get in trouble for forgetting).
There are other things which I remember very well. Passages from books, strange trivia, obscure case law, provisions of the Property Law Act, snippets of conversations, people’s faces (but not necessarily names, unfortunately). People e-mail me when they can’t remember a legal case but they have a vague memory that there is one on point. One of the frustrating things about pregnancy is that it has made my recall of case law a bit fuzzy.
I can also remember personal details about both my colleagues and my husband’s colleagues which he cannot (spouses, offspring, pets, careers etc). I suspect this is generally a “female” thing, although I’m sure there are men who can do it too. My husband and I have been watching Battlestar Galactica, and he’ll forget details, whereas I’ll say, “Remember that about halfway through Series One, so-and-so had a fight with that character.”
Anyway, memory is fascinating – especially the mechanics of it, and what makes us remember better (or worse). And what different people remember about the same event. It has ramifications for legal cases and the reliability of witness statements, as well as the utility of cross-examination. I’d love to know more about it.