Memories are manipulative!

Memories are manipulative!

Netflix documentary: “Making a Murderer” (click here for trailer)
State: Wisconsin 🏳️
Charge: Sexual Assault, Attempted Murder, False Imprisonment
Conviction: Sexual Assault, Attempted Murder, False Imprisonment
Sentence: 32 years
Incident Date: 07/29/85
Exoneration Date: 09/11/03
Served: 18 years

Meet Steven Allan Avery 🔎
Steven Allan Avery

Steven Allan Avery (born July 9, 1962), Wisconsin, was convicted for sexual assault and attempted murder in 1985. Avery had three siblings and attended and was a “slower kid” at school. He married Lori Mathiesen, and had four children. In March 1981, at age 18, Avery was convicted of burgling a bar with a friend. After serving 10 months of a two-year sentence in the Manitowoc County Jail, he was released on probation.

In late 1982 📅

Two men admitted that, at Avery’s suggestion, they threw Avery’s cat “in a bonfire and then watched it burn until it died” after Avery had poured gas and oil on it.

In January 1985 🚘

Avery ran his cousin’s car off to the side of the road. After she pulled over, Avery pointed a gun at her. Avery was upset that she had been spreading rumors about him masturbating on the front lawn, which he stated was not true. Avery maintained that the gun was not loaded and that he was simply trying to stop her from spreading rumors about him. He was sentenced to six years for “endangering safety while evincing a depraved mind” and possession of a firearm. 

In July 1985 👀

A woman named Penny Beerntsen was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted while jogging on a Lake Michigan beach. Avery was arrested after the victim picked him from a photo lineup, and later from a live lineup. Although Avery was 40 miles away in Green Bay shortly after the attack – an alibi supported by a time-stamped store receipt and 16 eyewitnesses – he was charged and ultimately convicted of rape and attempted murder, then sentenced to 32 years in prison.

In April of 2002 ✍️

After serving 18 years of a 32-year sentence, attorneys for the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained a court order for DNA testing of 13 hairs recovered from Beernsten at the time of the crime. The state crime laboratory reported that using the FBI DNA database, 🧬 it had linked a hair to Gregory Allen, a convicted felon who bore a striking resemblance to Avery.  Allen was then serving a 60-year prison term for a sexual assault in Green Bay that occurred after the attack on Beernsten. He was exonerated by DNA testing and released.

“Eyewitness error was involved in about 75% of 312 DNA exonerations cases in the US.”

What went wrong? One of the key factors that lead to Avery’s prosecution was the eyewitness, the victim. She identified Avery to be the attacker, from the pictures. But could she not even remember what her attacker looked like? In fact, eyewitness error was involved in about 75% of 312 DNA exonerations cases in the US. 🧬

We think that our memory is pretty accurate until we see the science of memory. 💡

In the last decades of neuroscience research, we learned that memory is flexible. It is not hard-wired and it continues to change over time. I have this image of my favorite candy store to have about five steps to go up. But I may be wrong, the store may or may not have steps. In my mind, I also see jars of candies behind the counter, but that could also be false, I may be recalling information from a movie that I’ve seen as a child. 

💁‍♀️ “Our memories are vulnerable, they can be changed.”

You can also think of memory as the different versions of a word or Google document you have. When you write a document, you save the last one. But while the document was stored, a virus introduced and changed some sentences, but didn’t really leave a trace that the virus sabotaged your document. When you open it after a year, things will have changed, without you even knowing what happened, but you are convinced that you wrote the version you are seeing. This does not happen with technology, what is “saved” is (hopefully) saved. The document, it can be changed. 

This is how memories work! 🙂

It is not that they fade out passively. Instead, each time they are evoked, they are slightly changed, trimmed, incorporated into new items that were floating at the moment it was evoked… and the new memory is stored again with all these changes but without a register that these changes have been made. This is (in part) why we all have false memories, why we feel completely certain that some events have happened when in fact they never occurred. 🤯

“We live in our false memory.” 🧐

Our memories are vulnerable, they can be changed. Patients with PTSD have gaps in their memory and that a natural protection mechanism for the brain. If we kept repeating the traumatic experiences, it would be harder to live. And is probably what happened to the eyewitnesses. The trauma experienced was blocked by the brain, so she could be less affected. But when she had to point out a suspect, she tried to reconstruct from the shattered memory.

This created a new or altered memory, which imprisoned the wrong man. Even with pleasant memories, they don’t stick with us the way they actually happened. We probably added some “sprinkles” that did not exist and embellished it. We are constantly repainting the falls of our experiences to create something somewhat related but new.

But why is our memory so unstable?🥺

As the expert at WakeUpMemory and memory champion, I had to dig deeper into why is our memory not accurate? One of the main reasons our memory is not stored as is in our brain is because we humans are simply not designed for the purchase of storing information. We are made to “detect” and “find patterns” for our survival. 🤩

Back in the caveman’s age, our ancestors needed memory to detect the bad vs. good cave to live in. If they had a bad experience with bats living in the cave and spreading disease, then, they will remember it to not pick a cave with bats. It is our ability to adapt that made us special and creative. So in short, our brain was meant to meaningfully use the memory, not to store it in its intact form, like air-vacuumed and frozen food. 🤓

😉 Maybe this makes you feel a little better than you are meant to forget! 

Related post: Evolution of human brain!

Written by
Claire
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