Your brain muddles bad memories to make you feel like a better person

A report suggests that we can subconsciously create a form of feel-good amnesia

If you've ever found yourself on the verge of falling asleep and suddenly - without warning - remembering something very embarrassing or cringe-worthy, don't worry, science says it happens to all of us.

Essentially, these are forms of resurfacing suppressed memories that have been beaten down by our brains, as we subconsciously use a mild form of amnesia in order to make us feel like better people.

According to Ars Technica, new research that involved over 2,100 participants, showed that we have self-defence mechanisms built in that help us to reconcile the differences between how we perceive ourselves to be and how we actually are.

The authors of the research state that “Because morality is such a fundamental part of human existence, people have a strong incentive to view themselves and be viewed by others as moral individuals. [...] [The use of unethical amnesia] can explain why ordinary, good people repeatedly engage in unethical behaviour and also how they distance themselves from such behaviour over time.”

Participants in the study were given simple memory questions, with the results showing that ethical memories were more easily recalled than unethical memories, unless those unethical memories were by the actions of others, in which case they were remembered all too well.

Likewise, some of tests involved participants playing a game which was very easy to cheat at, and when questioned about the game two weeks later, players who cheated couldn't remember the details of the game as well as those who didn't cheat.

The authors concluded that the study “highlight[s] an important consequence of dishonesty: obfuscation of one’s memory over time because of the psychological distress and discomfort created by unethical actions.”