I was highly amused the other day to hear a judge say, “it’s amazing how many car crashes happen between two stationary vehicles”.

Everyone has their own version of events and many a court case has been won or lost on eyewitness testimonies that directly contradict each other. One saw a blue shirt, another saw green. One saw a tall offender, another saw a short one. How does this happen?

How can two people observe the same event yet have two completely different recollections?


Witnesses ‘see’ different versions of an event. Why?

Memories are like a partial replay of an event you have experienced. Each time you bring the event to mind, you are recollecting your memory of the event, not the event itself. And each time your memory comes to mind, there are subtle changes, particularly if you have subsequently heard some other viewpoints in the meantime.

The latest version of the memory ‘overwrites’ the original, just the way it does when you are updating documents on the computer.

Over the years, people involved in the event, or even the event itself, may become transposed. The blue Chevvy you are certain you saw speeding towards the intersection may, in fact, have been a green Dodge that you had seen on a different day. Or the family you’re sure you met in Baltimore, you may actually have had a meal with in Rochester.

Not only do the memories change over time, they may have been inaccurate of false from the very beginning.

This happens when you have misunderstood what you were seeing in the first place. Over-active imaginations have kept police departments busy for years with reports of ‘suspicious’ actions that turned out to be quite innocent.

Memories can morph and change. Scraps of information stored away for years can be collected around an idea or suggestion. My mother, for example, in her senior years, had convinced herself that she played her favourite sport, hockey, for her country. She has watched so many games on TV, read so much in the media about famous games, they have become ‘real’ to her. She is certain that she actually played them at international level. Bless her!

As Salvador Dali said,

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels; it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant”.

Find out more about your amazing memory with the eBook, Seven Second Memory, Edition 3, written by Dr. Allison Lamont & Gillian Eadie.