Repeated Memorization Can Lead to False Memories, Study Says

New study implies that repetition shakes loose details in memory

Most people who have crammed for a test know about rote memorization, also known as hammering the same information into your brain until it stays there.

Common sense says that going over the same thing again and again would make it easier to remember, but a new study from UC Irvine suggests rote memorization also comes at a price.

Researchers Zachariah Reagh and Michael Yassa published a study in the journal "Learning & Memory" which found that while repetition can enhance the factual content of memories, it also has the added effect of reducing the amount of detail stored in those memories.

Basically, this means that while repeated interaction with the same material highlights some ideas, it does so at the cost of specifics.

In the study, participants looked at images a different numbers of times and were tested on their memories of the image afterwards.

What the research showed is while repetition strengthened memorization of main ideas, participants who viewed the images multiple times were more easily fooled by “imposter” pictures.

The study implies that repetition shakes loose details in memory, giving credence to Competitive Trace Theory, another idea discussed by the pair of researchers.

At its simplest level, Competitive Trace Theory says that the more times a memory is recalled, the more it competes with other bits of similar memories, possibly leading to false memories being formed.

The researchers compared it to a brain version of the children’s telephone game.

Previous findings on memory supported the idea that repetitive recollection lessens the ability to remember things accurately.

Research done at Northwestern University suggests that when a person remembers something, they aren’t actual recalling the actual memory, but instead the last time they brought it to mind.

Yassa, a professor of neurobiology at UC Irvine, concludes in the study that while his findings do not discredit the entire practice of repetitive learning, it should be combined with other memory techniques for a learning experience that really sticks.

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