Constructive Memory: Part 1 of 2

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In another article we emphasized the role of stimulus redundancy in   perception. Because different aspects of a stimulus are often correlated (redundant),  we can infer things about one aspect from another (e.g,. linear perspective is a strong cue for depth). It appears that the same sort of thing happens when information is retrieved from human memory. Suppose, for example, you were asked to describe someone you met only briefly a year ago. You might first recall that the person was an automobile salesman. You might then recall that he had an outgoing personality, was quite verbal, and argued persuasively. But wait! Is this information based on your actual experience with this man or on your stereotype of car salesmen  (that is. on what you believe to be the typical personality characteristics of car salesmen)? Certainly people’s choice of occupation is often correlated with their personality. It would be possible, but very surprising, to find an intervened, inarticulate car salesman who couldn’t argue  persuasively.

Thus remembering a person’s occupation often allows us to make useful inferences about his or her personality. In fact, we make such   inferences so often and so automatically that we may not even be sure whether we are recalling our actual experiences with people or inferring   what their behavior was like on the basis of what we remember about   their occupation. Inferences of this sort can sometimes distort our recollection   of people so that we treat them unfairly, just as our perceptions can sometimes be biased because of inappropriate inferences. (Our ways   of interpreting events and people, and some inherent biases in the process will be discussed at length in a later article). However, most such inferences aid retrieval, just as they do perception.

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