Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Memory and Mismemory

Okay, as I move into my, um, later years, this story hits a little too close to home.

The Washington Post reported on how when the CDC gave a list of truths and myths about flu, older people who read the flier -- in just 30 minutes! -- misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true.

In other words, it took only a half hour to get a quarter of the stuff wrong. Myth becomes truth! And in three days, 40 percent made the dramatic change from myth to fact.

Scary.

Now I am starting to remember back to all those myths I learned when I was a kid in school and, even worse, I wonder if I am misremembering some stuff as being fact. Did Mary Beth Lumpkins mean it when she said she liked me in the fifth grade? Or am I misremembering that so that myth became fact. Beth, if you're out there, lemme know. I'm really confused.

Anyway, back to the question at hand -- what people know. Or maybe I should call this blog, what people think they know.

Younger people didn't ace this test either (yes, you hear me sighing in relief). They did better early on, but within three days young people did as poorly as older folk. So what's all this mean? "This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi," says the article. "Similarly, many in the Arab world are convinced that the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was not the work of Arab terrorists but was a controlled demolition; that 4,000 Jews working there had been warned to stay home that day; and that the Pentagon was struck by a missile rather than a plane."

In other words, myth becomes reality.

What do people know? Whatever their minds create as fact, apparently. I'd love to know if certain kinds of people are more likely to do this than others. Perhaps some other time I'll explore possible personality or individual differences.

The media role? Reminding people what is fact, what is myth, and why it matters that people keep the differences straight in their heads.

Beth? Fact or myth?

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