Jonah Lehrer on Advertising and False Memory

Jonah Lehrer remembers a Friday night football game from his time in high school:

“In my autobiographical memory, we are all drinking from those slender glass bottles of Coca-Cola (the vintage kind), enjoying our swigs of sugary caffeine. Although I can’t remember much else about the night, I can vividly remember those sodas: the feel of the drink, the tang of the cola, the constant need to suppress burps.”
# # #

Problem is, it didn’t happen like that. He tells why – and how he was deluded – and moves on to this:

Jonah Lehrer:

“A new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, helps explain both the success of this marketing strategy and my flawed nostalgia for Coke. It turns out that vivid commercials are incredibly good at tricking the hippocampus (a center of long-term memory in the brain) into believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened. And it happened to us.

“How could a stupid commercial trick me into believing that I … drank Coke out of glass bottles?

“The answer returns us to a troubling recent theory known as memory reconsolidation. In essence, reconsolidation is rooted in the fact that every time we recall a memory we also remake it, subtly tweaking the neuronal details. Although we like to think of our memories as being immutable impressions, somehow separate from the act of remembering them, they aren’t. A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it. What’s disturbing, of course, is that we can’t help but borrow many of our memories from elsewhere, so that the ad we watched on television becomes our own, part of that personal narrative we repeat and retell.”
# # #

He ends by saying this: “And so … that alluring soda commercial becomes a scene from my own life. We steal our stories from everywhere. Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal.”

Read the whole story in Wired.

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