How True Are Our Memories: Remembering My Childhood Home

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Words || Sara Zarriello

The old house was blue. I always remember the kitchen cupboards having been blue, or it might have been the walls. Well, apparently not.  

Just the other day, I was sitting at the dinner table with my family, reminiscing about our first home. My father listened acutely at the things I could recall, seemingly impressed by the accuracy of my memory. Yet, he knew the old house was definitely not blue. Some of the shine had rubbed off my memory, as I vehemently disagreed; something about the old house equated to a kind of blueness! Was I wrong? 

So it seems. Out of the 3 people who can remember the old house, that being a 6-year-old me and my 30-something-year-old parents at the time – their memories win. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki can be the next overqualified person to tell me, indeed little wallflower, your memory is false. Obviously, Dr Karl and me aren’t the greatest of pals, we don’t get together on the weekend to read the newspaper and sip chai latte’s (although I wouldn’t be opposed to that) – but I did watch him on ‘Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery’ in which he details why memory cannot be trusted. 

Dr Karl draws on a memory study by American cognitive psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus. The aim of the experiment was to show that false memories can be implanted into someone’s mind, proving the unreliability of memory. A group of students partaking in the study were asked to fill out a questionnaire in which all answered yes to, “Have you been to Disneyland?” From there each student would enter a room, thinking they were waiting to go into a test. In this room, Professor Loftus would casually ask them a series of introductory open-ended questions including (as told by Dr Karl), “Do you remember Daffy Duck giving you a cuddle?” The students would answer “no” and proceed to enter the testing room. A year later, the students would return and complete the same exact tests, including the introductory questions. Except this time, a quarter of those students’ responses to that Daffy Duck question would be affirmative. Meaning that Professor Loftus had, a year ago, implanted a false memory which that group of students had taken on as their own. 

Professor Loftus’ experiment suggests the incredible pliability of our memory. Talking to my parents that day, mum mentioned that we had blue tiles. Could I have been so enraptured by the pretty colour of my floor tiles at the age of 6? Really, that is what I remember of the house? I can’t tell you honestly whether this was why I thought my house was blue, or whether I had taken another memory of something else and somehow twisted it into a belief I now shakily hold. The idea that memory can be moulded and changed over time is incredibly destabilising, not only because memory is something I rely on to accurately help me in life, but because it is something I hold dear to me. 

My memories are cherished. As a society, we collate photo albums of children grown into adults, oral stories are told by grandparents to their children and their children. We are constantly linking our past experiences to our present, using these memories to help us share our cultures, to move forward in our tiny worlds. 

So, even though everyone else might say my old house definitely was not blue – I still think it is. Maybe I’m being naive and ignorant, or maybe my memories are right. Probably not. I don’t remember much living in that house, it wasn’t very comfortable, and I vividly remember the suburb smelling awful (that is a proven fact that has been backed up by my parents, thank you). Maybe I’m implanting false memories of the old house in my brain, just as Professor Loftus had. All I know is that I can’t and won’t get the colour blue out of my head.

Raise a glass for all-knowing logic and my incredibly memorised old blue house; may they never meet! 

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