Source amnesia

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Source amnesia is an everyday memory phenomenon. It describes the property of our memory that we store facts regardless of their origin. Thus, a person can have a certain knowledge (e.g. that Caesar was murdered by Brutus) without remembering where and when he learned the facts (e.g. in a TV documentary).

Phenomena of source amnesia

In the context of source amnesia, there is the possibility that false sources may be found in the memory. Together with this misinformation effect, source amnesia forms the origin of many false memories. It can also happen to writers, for example, to believe that an idea came from them without knowing that the corresponding information originally came from outside. Another phenomenon of source amnesia can be seen in the memory of dreams: people sometimes do not know whether a certain event actually took place or whether the memory comes from a dream.

Memory structure

The source is one of the most sensitive parts of a memory. It lies in the autobiographical memory, which stores only few and significant contents. The central processing location for this in the brain is the innermost areas of the hippocampus. There is comparatively little space available there.

Factual knowledge, on the other hand, belongs to semantic memory. The hippocampus processes this content further out, with more space available for this. Therefore, facts are stored better than the sources.


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  • Gerhard Roth: From the Perspective of the Brain. 2. Auflage, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-518-29515-1.
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