What is it about?

Much psychological research has revealed that memory does not operate like a videorecorder, and is subject to various kind of errors. In 2001, I wrote a book, The Seven Sins of Memory, in which I classified memory errors into seven categories or “sins”. Three “sins of omission” refer to different kinds of forgetting: transience, absentmindedness, and blocking. Four “sins of commission” refer to cases in which memory is present, but either wrong or unwanted: misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. This article assess progress in understanding several of the memory sins during the past two decades in applied settings, ranging from the classroom and the courtroom to clinical contexts and real-world impacts of technology, such as smartphones and fake news.

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Why is it important?

We depend on our memories to perform countless tasks in our everyday lives. Although memory is often reliable, memory errors can have profound consequences, such as when extreme forgetting interferes with a persons's ability to function in daily life, an eyewitness to a crime mistakenly identifies an innocent person as the perpetrator, or uncontrollable intrusive memories of a traumatic event undermine psychological well-being. It is thus critically important to assess what we now know about memory errors and how to counter or reduce their harmful effects.


Since writing The Seven Sins of Memory in 2001, I have closely followed research on the memory sins, and in 2021 published an updated edition of the book that includes brief updates on each of them. This article gave me an opportunity to delve more deeply into recent research on applied, everyday aspects of the memory sins and to assess the extent of progress we have made in understanding and countering them. I enjoyed writing the article and hope that it provides a useful synthesis of our current knowledge.

Daniel Schacter
Harvard University

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This page is a summary of: Memory sins in applied settings: What kind of progress?, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, December 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/mac0000078.
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