Memory distortion: an adaptive perspective

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Oct;15(10):467-74. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.08.004. Epub 2011 Sep 9.


Memory is prone to distortions that can have serious consequences in everyday life. Here we integrate emerging evidence that several types of memory distortions - imagination inflation, gist-based and associative memory errors, and post-event misinformation - reflect adaptive cognitive processes that contribute to the efficient functioning of memory, but produce distortions as a consequence of doing so. We consider recent cognitive and neuroimaging studies that link these distortions with adaptive processes, including simulation of future events, semantic and contextual encoding, creativity, and memory updating. We also discuss new evidence concerning factors that can influence the occurrence of memory distortions, such as sleep and retrieval conditions, as well as conceptual issues related to the development of an adaptive perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Semantics