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Am Psychol. 1999 Mar;54(3):182-203.

The seven sins of memory. Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Though often reliable, human memory is also fallible. This article examines how and why memory can get us into trouble. It is suggested that memory's misdeeds can be classified into 7 basic "sins": transience, absentmindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. The first three sins involve different types of forgetting, the next three refer to different types of distortions, and the final sin concerns intrusive recollections that are difficult to forget. Evidence is reviewed concerning each of the 7 sins from relevant sectors of psychology (cognitive, social, and clinical) and from cognitive neuroscience studies that include patients with focal brain damage or make use of recently developed neuroimaging techniques. Although the 7 sins may appear to reflect flaws in system design, it is argued instead that they are by-products of otherwise adaptive features of memory.

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