On the Seven Sins of Memory with Daniel Schacter


What exactly is a memory? How much do we know about the processes that a human brain executes to store and retrieve a memory? An individual memory may contain different elements such as explicit information, one or many contexts, relevant emotions; does the brain pre-process all individual elements of a memory and then stores this processed memory as one single entity? Or, are different elements of an individual memory stored at different locations in the form of a connected structure or network, and are post-processed at the time of retrieval? In this case what are the chances that during this post processing of different elements of a memory, the retrieved memory gets contaminated resulting in a false memory that reshapes the past? How do non-conscious memories affect and shape our behavior? Daniel Schacter is a cognitive psychologist and is professor of psychology at Harvard University. His research explores the relation between conscious and unconscious forms of memory, the nature of memory distortions, how we use memory to imagine possible future events, and the effects of aging on memory. In this podcast at Bridging the Gaps professor Daniel Schacter shares and discusses cutting edge research on these topics.

Research shows, explains Schacter, that the process of remembering and retrieving memories is a constructive activity. He points out that human memory system is not perfect. The system has its shortcomings and we are all affected by memory’s shortcomings in our everyday lives. In his book “Seven Sins of Memory” Schacter systematically classifies various memory distortions into seven basic categories. According to Schacter these seven memory distortion categories are: transience, absentmindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence.

In this discussion Schacter explains these memory distortions in detail, one by one. He emphasizes that “these memory distortions should not be viewed as flaws in system design, instead these distortions can be conceptualized as by-products of otherwise desirable features of human memory”. Schacter explains this statement. He then discusses the experiments and research studies to measure, estimate and understand these shortcomings of memory. I ask him that can we use the estimates of these seven shortcomings of memory for an individual to gauge the individual’s ability or lack of it to reconstruct memories? If we succeed in developing reliable techniques to make such measurements, these techniques can be used to improve the way we manage, document and process eyewitness testimonies in legal proceedings. Schacter shares his views on this.

An interesting point that Schacter highlights in his presentations, and discusses in this podcast is that there is evidence of memory serving the needs of present, and the past being reshaped by current knowledge, beliefs and emotions. He shares his research findings on this.

Remembering the past and imaging the future depend on a common network in the brain, known as the Default Brain Network. Shacter describes the Default Brain Network and discusses the research that focuses on the question that how this one network manages these two different processes.

Just before finishing our discussion, I ask Daniel Schacter his views on human consciousness and on the question of how brain creates mind. Finally, I finish this podcast by asking Daniel Schacter what are major developments and breakthroughs that he envisages in the field of his research in the near future.


  • Schacter Memory Lab.
  • Schacter Daniel L. (2002). “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers”, Mariner Books; 1st edition
  • Schacter Daniel L. (1997). “Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past”, Basic Books.

(2001). The seven sins of memory: how the mind forgets and remembers, Choice Reviews Online, 39 (04) 39-2484-39-2484. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/choice.39-2484

Schacter Daniel L. (1996). Searching for memory: the brain, the mind, and the past Choice Reviews Online, 34 (04), 34-34 DOI: 10.5860/CHOICE.34-2465

By |January 17th, 2015|Podcasts|

How much do we think about thinking? Science of Meta-awareness and Mind-wandering.

How much do we think about thinking? How aware usually are we of our awareness, and about what is happening around us? Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology at the University of California (Santa Barbara), whose research focuses on consciousness, memory, meta-awareness, mind-wandering, and mindfulness, describes meta awareness as our ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness. He notes that when we are not focusing on what is happening around us, we generate imaginative thoughts that are unrelated to external circumstances. It is common to experience such imaginative thoughts and experience moments when our minds have wandered away from the situation at hand. Schooler suggests that mind wandering is indicative of different kinds of attentional fluctuations.

I invited Professor Jonathan Schooler to this episode of Bridging the Baps.

“Meta awareness is our ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness”.

Schooler describes mind-wandering as a phenomenon when a person’s attention is less directed towards external environment and it shifts more towards an internal train of thought. But is mind-wandering an attribute of attention or is this an attribute of consciousness? Jonathan Schooler shares his views on this.

It is interesting to note that substantial research has been done to study how our attention is directed at external objects and external environment; however less research has been devoted to study that how our attention is affected by our internal thoughts. Jonathan Schooler discusses the origin of research on the topic of mind-wandering.

When a person’s mind wanders, the person’s perception becomes decoupled and the person shows reduced responsiveness to the external environment; so what exactly happens during this time and what causes mind-wandering: is this the time when we day-dream, or is this the time we plan for our future or think about our long term goals?

During mind-wandering cognitive resources become occupied by internal activity that is unrelated to the external environment, hence mind-wandering interferes with the primary task that the person is doing at that time.

Research shows that our minds are disengaged from what goes on around us for between 25% and 50% of our working hours. We discuss these findings and I ask Jonathan Schooler how do we measure, study and sample mind wandering under lab conditions.

During mind-wandering a person’s cognitive resources become occupied by internal activity and imaginative thoughts that are unrelated to the external environment, hence mind-wandering interferes with the primary task that the person is doing at that time. We discuss the disruption that mind-wandering can produce. We discuss the impact of mind-wandering on reading, on sustained attention, on mood, on working memory and on general attitude.

Mind wandering is being studied from a neural physiological perspective as well. An interesting question is what happens in the brain during mind wandering activity? Default mode network (DMN), also called default network, is a network of brain regions that are active when the individual is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest. In a number of research publications Jonathan and his colleagues have reported and discussed activities in the default network regions. I ask Jonathan what a default network is and what kinds of increased activities occur in these regions of brain during mind-wandering. Jonathan shares his views and research findings on these questions.

In this podcast, we also touch upon:

  • Mind-wandering: day dreaming vs planning for future and goal setting
  • Measuring frequency of mind-wandering: is there a scale to estimate the level of mind wandering an individual is involved in?
  • What level and frequency of mind-wandering should be considered as a problem and not a tool to plan and imagine our future?
  • Is there any evidence that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is associated with increased frequency of mind wandering?
  • Can we say that mindfulness is a state when no mind wandering is going on? In their publications, Jonathan and his colleagues suggest that mindfulness training might hold potential for reducing mind wandering. So a question is that what kind of mindfulness training can assist us in reducing mind-wandering?


  • The Meta Lab at UCSB
  • Schooler, J.W., Smallwood, J., Christoff, K, Handy, T.C., Reichle, E.D., & Sayette, M.A. (2011) Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind. Trends in Cognitive Science 15, 319-326
  • Schooler, J. W., Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Baird, B., Mooneyham, B. W., Zedelius, C., & Broadway, J. M.. (2014). The Middle Way: Finding the Balance between Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering. In B. H. Ross, Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. Volume 60, pp. 1 – 33). Academic Press.
  • Casner, S. M., & Schooler, J. W.. (2013). Thoughts in Flight: Automation Use and Pilots’ Task-Related and Task-Unrelated Thought. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
  • Mrazek, M. D., Broadway, J. M., Phillips, D. T., Franklin, M. S., Mooneyham, B. W., & Schooler, J. W.. (2014). An Antidote for Wandering Minds. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness, 153.
By |December 26th, 2014|Podcasts|