3 Points About Distorted Memories


This week, I read a thought-provoking article about how our memories become distorted by traumatic events, “Perceptual and Memory Distortions During Officer Involved Shootings,” by Alexis Artwohl.

The article is well worth a read, (just click on the title above). I thought I’d pull out the three points that most shocked me.

When you witness, or are part of a traumatic event, your memory may be impaired in several ways. Here are three:

1. Your hearing may be affected…

Many  report that they didn’t hear the gunshots or sirens and if they do remember the sounds they seemed distant and muffled. This explains why some policeman can’t remember how many rounds they fired.

2. Your peripheral vision may be narrowed…

In a traumatic situation many experience a heightened visual clarity that allows them to remember in great detail a small area, but the outlying area, isn’t clear. They experience tunnel vision.

3. Your mind may forget parts of what happened…

It’s also common for people in these situations to have “Kodak moments” or “flashbulb memories.” That is, they have a series of clear images stored in their brain, but not a complete memory of what happened. Researchers have found that after 24 hours, more memory is restored, as we “integrate” our memories during REM sleep.

Here are two quotes from police officers:

“”If it hadn’t been for the recoil, I wouldn’t have known my gun was working. Not only didn’t I hear the shots, but afterwards my ears weren’t even ringing.”

I saw the suspect pointing his gun at my partner and as I shot him I saw my partner get shot and go down in a spray of blood. After I neutralized the suspect, I ran over to help my partner and he was standing there unharmed. The suspect never even got off a shot.””

From this article I take away two lessons. First, I’ll never blame a policeman for not describing everything that happened in an incident. It’s not his fault that he can’t remember all the details. And second, the characters in my stories who witness traumatic events, must be deeply affected by it, not just emotionally (which I always detail) but also physically. They may not be able to recall the entire event and that too will traumatize them.

The brain is fascinating.

Have you experienced distorted memories?

Author: Jo-Ann Carson

About Jo-Ann Carson Where magic happens … Reports of Jo-Ann Carson’s death on a Gulf Island are greatly exaggerated or, at the very least, premature. The eclectic crew of ghosts that haunt her head spill onto the page in two series: The Gambling Ghosts and The Ghost & Abby Mysteries. A Viking with existential issues, a broken hearted Highlander, a Casanova man-witch and a Pirate with a secret are just a few of the males her strong heroines encounter in tales of fantasy, adventure and romance. A firm believer in the magic of our everyday lives, Jo-Ann loves watching sunrises, walking beaches near her home in the Pacific Northwest and reading by the fire. You can visit her on social media: Website * Blog * Twitter * Facebook

6 thoughts on “3 Points About Distorted Memories”

    1. Welcome Lynn
      You are most welcome.
      I love your profile pic, and am happy the post is helpful. It blew me away.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  1. This is fascinating, Jo-Ann. Especially for those of us who write mystery/suspense in any format. I experienced the tunnel vision part one day when a person walked into our school. We’d been warned hehad a gun and was after one of our staff members. We couldn’t get all the doors locked before he showed up. I remember a very small area of attention. Almost a small circle where I, my female campus monitor, and the guy stood. It was as if the rest of the building, staff and kids faded away. Even when the policeman arrived, my focus just barely adjusted to take him in.
    Fortunately for all of us, the man didn’t bring in a gun. But standing there trying to remain calm and keep him calm was an experience guaranteed to shoot my blood pressure through the roof. Immediately afterwards, I really couldn’t recall many details.
    I know from interviewing kids when an incident has happened how their different locations can affect their perceptions. Hadn’t known our brain really goes into a mini meltdown. Thanks so much for sharing.


    1. Oh my goodness Marsha
      You’ve actually been in a threatening school situation. We now practice lock downs, but I don’t know anyone who has had to go through what you did. I can only imagine the horror of the moment, knowing you’re responsible for protecting all your students and staff. You are a heroine in my books.
      Interesting hearing how your vision tunneled. The brain is fascinating.
      Thanks so much for sharing this jarring experience.
      Best Wishes


      1. Unfortunately, Jo-Ann, I have other experiences similar to the one above. 😦 No place is safe anymore. Nor our schools. Not our churches. Not our theaters. It behooves us all to spend time contemplating the worst case scenario and coming up with ideas for how to deal with it. Sorry, didn’t mean to go down this path. I”m mostly a very optimistic person. Thanks for always providing such an interesting and thought provoking blog.


      2. Hi Marsha
        It is sad. The education system sure changed during the thirty years I worked in it. And as you say– so did the world we live in.
        But when I look into the faces of children I have great hope.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s