In honor of the 88th Academy Awards, we revisit John Seamon's discussion of his book, Memory and Movies, which explains how popular films can help us understand how memory works.
What can we learn about memory from watching movies?
Many of us love watching movies because they offer unparalleled opportunities for entertainment. At the same time, because we are really good at learning by watching others—what psychologists call “observational learning”—there is always the potential to pick up misinformation in films. This is especially true in the depiction of memory disorders. Concussions, for example, can produce amnesia, but they never produce memory recovery. Yet, since the silent film era, film characters have recovered their lost memories after a second head bonk. This comedic portrayal of memory might easily be dismissed, except that surveys in the United States and Canada show that roughly 40 percent of the respondents believe it. Memory processes are often accurately portrayed in movies, allowing us to learn from film, but the potential for misinformation is real.