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Do you remember what you did a week before today? And are you sure you actually did that instead of dreaming it up? Our memory can be tricked easily. But how? Hank explains how your memories can be tricked.

Hosted by: Hank Green
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[intro plays]

Hank: It's easy to assume that your memory works like a camera. You know how cameras work, so it's like how memories work. You take snapshots of your life, and sometimes it's hard to find a picture, or you accidentally delete one, but the ones you keep are a good record of what actually happened.

But psychologists who study memory actually think it works more like a Wikipedia page. You can trust it as a general reference, but every time you remember something, you can make changes to it, and so can other people. In fact, there are lots of ways your mind can tricked into thinking things happened that never actually did.

One way is through suggestion, basically dropping hints that something happened a certain way. A psychology study in the mid-1970s was the first to show the  power of verbal suggestions.

In one experiment, the researchers played videos of a car crash, and then asked some questions about the crash. One group was asked how fast they thought the cars were going when they hit each other, and another was asked how fast the cars were going when they smashed into each other. 

And that word choice affected their memory. When the researchers said smashed instead of hit, people's estimates of the speed increased by about three miles per hour. Then when the psychologists followed up about a week later, they asked if the participants remembered seeing broken glass in the video. Which for the record there wasn't.

Of the fifty people who heard the word smashed, sixteen remembered seeing broken glass, that wasn't actually there; as opposed to seven of the fifty people who heard the word hit. 

Even without the suggestion, a few people were remembering incorrectly, but not as many.