The Social Life of Memory

From Harvard Magazine:

MemoryLeading a healthy social life depends on the ability to predict the behavior of others accurately. Most people expect a loud, aggressive bully to be cruel, and a passive, quiet loner to shy away from confrontation. More often than not, that’s correct. Yet exactly how the brain predicts such behavior has long been unclear.

Now research by Kenan professor of psychology Daniel Schacter and several coauthors, published in the March issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that the brain, when making behavioral predictions, uses the part devoted to memory. During the past decade, Schacter says, a revolution has occurred in the field of memory science: researchers have shown that memory is responsible for much more than the simple recall of facts or the sensation of reliving events from the past. “Memory is not just a readout,” he explains. “It is a tool that’s used by the brain to bring past experience to bear when thinking about future situations.” In fact, Schacter continues, memory and imagination involve virtually identical mental processes; both rely on a specific system known as the “default network,” previously thought to be activated only when recalling the past. This discovery led to a rich vein of research, he reports. For instance, the link between memory and imagination could explain why those with memory problems, such as amnesiacs or the elderly, often struggle to envision the future.

More here.