Similarity space

Is similarity a double-edged sword for memory?

Memories can be influenced by similarities between elements of an experience or between different experiences. Imagine seeing three cars back to back which were all dark grey and SUVs on the highway on your way back from a trip. You go back home and you receive an amber alert on your phone. It describes a dark grey SUV with a driver who was wearing a green sweater last seen on the same highway you passed. You are alerted, you think you can help. What can you remember? Research shows during the time of encoding, the cars being similar to each other might have helped you record more details about them. You didn’t have to encode each car’s color or model which could have saved cognitive resources for encoding other details such as the sweater of the driver. This is one benefit of similarity. Now, let’s go back to the time you have to remember these details you recorded. If you had seen one dark grey SUV, you could zoom in this one memory and try to match what you remember from the driver to what is described. But you have seen three of them back to back, close in time and space. Your clue for remembering these memories is the same; grey SUV. When you start searching your memories with this clue, it will bring three drivers instead of one. These memories will interfere with each other and can lead to erroneous recall.This is a detrimental effect of similarity. My research focuses on both sides of the sword. I investigate both the beneficial and detrimental effect of similarity on memories. Why is this important? Nobody likes forgetting or inaccurate remembering but there are also real life consequences. False memories can lead to wrongful convictions.