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The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers Paperback – May 7, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st edition (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618219196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618219193
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Illustrating decades of research with compelling and often bizarre examples of glitches and miscues, Daniel L. Schacter's The Seven Sins of Memory dusts off an old topic and finds material of both practical and theoretical interest. Chairman of Harvard's Department of Psychology, Schacter knows his stuff and how to present it memorably. Organizing the book by examining each of seven "sins," such as absent-mindedness and suggestibility, Schacter slowly builds his case that these sometimes enraging bugs are actually side effects of system features we wouldn't want to do without. For example, when we focus our attention on one aspect of our surroundings, we inevitably draw attention away from others:

Consider this scenario: if you were watching a circle of people passing a basketball and someone dressed in a gorilla costume walked through the circle, beat his chest, and exited, of course you would notice him immediately--wouldn't you? [Researchers] filmed such a scene and showed it to people who were asked to track the movement of the ball by counting the number of passes made by one of the teams. Approximately half of the participants failed to notice the gorilla.

Scientists concerned about interesting a general audience would do well to use more gorilla suits. Schacter elegantly weaves this curiosity into his text along with clinical stories and frontline research. Recent advances in brain imaging have boosted his field considerably, and the formerly remote psychological territory has yielded plenty of exciting discoveries. Though some of the practical material seems like reheated common sense (Haunted by a traumatic memory? Talk about it.), it's backed up by solid scientific work. Write a note, tie string around the finger, or hire an assistant for reminders, but by all means remember to pick up a copy of The Seven Sins of Memory. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

To Ben Franklin's adage concerning the certainty of death and taxes, one ought, after reading this book, to add memory failures. Schacter (chair, psychology, Harvard Univ.; Searching for Memory), illuminates the curious processes of memory by classifying its malfunctions into seven categories: transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. Schacter illustrates each of these "sins" with examples of routine misfortunes common to all (misplacing keys, forgetting someone's name) and cases of debilitating memory errors. Though memory failure can amount to little more than a mild annoyance, the consequences of misattribution in eyewitness testimony can be devastating, as can the consequences of suggestibility among pre-school children and among adults with "false memory syndrome." Lest we assume that memory is a badly engineered system, however, Schacter suggests that "the seven sins are by-products of otherwise adaptive features of memory." Drawing upon recent neuroimaging research that allows a glimpse of the brain as it learns and remembers, Schacter guides his readers on a fascinating journey of the human mind. Highly recommended for all libraries. Laurie Bartolini, Illinois State Lib., Springfield
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

A very detailed book that is easy to read.
William D. Tompkins
I started reading "The Seven Sins of Memory" by Daniel Schacter because it focuses on memory, my favorite topic in neuroscience.
Hifza Z. Sakhi
This is a book I gave as a gift before I had read it.
Marilyn Longwell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Everyone, even young people, has suffered the frustration of an imperfect memory. What does not get acknowledged is that those frustrations, as common as they are, are only frustrating because they are so uncommon. Most of the time our memories function incredibly well. But as in most of neuroscience, when the brain doesn't function well, that's when we get a picture of what it is doing. A fascinating book, _The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers_ (Houghton Mifflin) by Daniel L. Schacter, details just how memory goes wrong, and gives some answers about why. Most important, it tells how at least some of memory's mistakes are directly related to it's remarkable, almost error-free, functioning. Schacter is a neuropsychologist who has written about memory in both academic and popular publications, but his descriptions of the seven ways memory fails are novel, and everyone will recognize at least some of the failures, since they are universal.
Schacter devotes a chapter to each of the sins, like transience, absentmindedness, and so on. There is a chapter on the sin of blocking. We have a phrase for it: "It's on the tip of my tongue." This one is so universal that of fifty-one languages surveyed, forty-five have a similar phrase (the Cheyenne translates to "I have lost it on my tongue."). It is far more likely to happen when you are trying to remember someone's name; remembering Mr. Baker is much harder to remember than the word "baker" because Mr. Baker designates one individual, whereas "baker" designates a well known range of activities and products. One of the traps people fall into is while trying to retrieve a tip-of-the-tongue word, they find a sound-alike word and keep hitting on that, which delays finding the target word.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Rivkah Maccaby on December 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Even if this hadn't been quite such a good book as it is, I would have given it five stars for being neither about analogy nor pathology. I am tired of both, because as much as it is handy to refer to computer data storage as "memory," it really is nothing like human memory, and as much as my mother sees ghouls of Alzheimer's over every lost pen, the truth is that her memory isn't as good as, well, as she remembers it being.
Without being about pathology, this book is about the fallibility of memory; or rather I should say, the failure of memory to live up to the expectations that we have for it. Actually, this book has made me think about the purpose and function of memory, and I've concluded that it actually works rather well; if we had little videocameras in our frontal lobes, they wouldn't serve us as well as the memory functions we actually have, and in fact, this is the subject of the final chapter.
The seven "sins" of memory are transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence.
Transience is the deterioration of memory over time, other than traumatic memory-- Persistence is the stubbornness of traumatic memory to fade. Absent-mindedness is failure to pay attention to something unusual that happens while performing a task by rote. Misattribution is attributing one feature of a memory to another-- remembering a childhood friend by his dog's name, for example. Blocking is the "tip of the tongue" phenomenon. Bias is coloring old memories with present knowledge.
There is no branch of study, from cranial anatomy, to neurochemistry, to performance psychology, to forensics, that he does not probe for usefulness. I applaud him for undertaking this project. In general, his writing is clear and concise. If occasionally he seems to belabor a point, this is something his editors should have corrected, and I don't take him to task for it. Skim through and go on.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on July 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Just like the seven deadly sins, the seven memory sins appear routinely in everyday life. How does transcience reflect a weakening of memory over time, how does absent-mindedness occur when failure of attention sabotages memory & how blocking happens when we can't retrieve a name we know well.
What startled me about Daniel L. Schacter's point of view is his re-casting of the mold of sin. We all have it that sins are dreadful things that lurk around every corner just waiting to mug us. This researcher-cum-author posits otherwise. You will learn about the biology of memory, the difference between brain & mind, forgetfulness & remembering &, which is perhaps the most novel aspect of this book: discover another way of perceiving "sin".
There are The Three Sins of Omission: 1) transcience - here today/gone tomorrow. 2) absent-mindedness - if my head wasn't attached to my neck I'd lose it. 3) blocking - ah, this one is hellatious, especially for a writer!
Then there are the Four Sins of Commission: 4) misattribution - you never really said that! 5) suggestibility - like the 'flu, these can be pernicious & withering. 6) bias - how our current knowledge & beliefs color how we remember. 7) persistence - recalling disturbing events or information we wish we wouldn't.
Oh, before I forget, this author game me a fascinating & humorous eInterview. What a mind-boggling read! Delightful? Yes, indeed. Well written? Certainly! Interesting? Definitely! Understandable? Readable? Memorable? Eminently so!
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