Friday, December 30, 2011
It's funny how we store events in our minds, we tag them with keywords. Was the year exciting, or scary? Was the protest effective, or merely invigorating? Then when we encounter a similar situation, we run a quick keyword search of our brains to help us interpret the new event against the data of our memory, latent tendencies and attitudes flowing from our own personal existence emerge until it becomes our personal history. Because of the interplay between the significant experience of the protagonist of a drama, and our own, fully awakened experimental framework, we realize our thoughts according to how we felt about them.
With this being said, let's bring to the surface and forge our very own intimately personal response to The Occupy Movement, its protagonists, its unfolding and its unavoidable denouement.
Before doing so, let's consider, first, how memory works. The term 'memory' encompasses our recollections of past experiences, our ability to keep track of what is happening from moment to moment, our stored knowledge, including knowledge of words and their meanings, our habits, our recognition of objects and faces, and our ability to remember to do things in the future. Accordingly, memory is paramount to understanding human behavior. Memory supports our ability to speak and decode language, to find our way around town, to make rational decisions, and to function successfully in society.
In the study conducted by Psychologists Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer, Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction (1974), Loftus and Palmer tested their hypothesis that language used in eyewitness testimony could alter memory. After having subjects watch a video of a car crash and then asked to estimate the speed of the vehicles, and by forcing their own keyword tags onto subjects' memories, Loftus and Palmer phrased questions like this: 1. About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other? 2. About how fast were the cars going when the smashed into each other? 3. About how fast were the cars going when they collided with each other? 4. About how fast were the cars going when the bumped into each other? 5. About how fast were the cars going when they contacted with each other?
The subjects' memories with the keyword "smashed" estimated an average of 9 mph faster than those whose memories had been tagged with "contacted." Interestingly enough, the tagwords did not simply affect people's estimates about the crash; they changed their memories of it, too. A week later, when questioned if the crash had produced broken glass, subjects whose memories were tagged with "smashed" answered "yes" more often than those whose memories had been tagged with "contacted." Of course, a "smash" can break a glass whereas a "contact" usually does not.
What has the media told us about The Occupy Movement that has affected our knowledge of it? Your most vivid memory of 2011 - maybe it never really happened...