Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives: Myth or Reality

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According to the myth of amnesia, all people experiencing problems with their memory usually forget everything including own names after awakening from a coma. The reasons for losing memory can be different but are always caused by some head injury (car accident, falling off, being wounded, consequences of the fight).

But in a range of various movies, it all results in the blank slate instead of the sober mind. However, such victims experience no difficulties in learning new things. Also, each time an amnesic gets unconscious for a while, he or she risks losing the recollection of the past life. Finally, there are people who blindly believe another head injury has to follow to cure amnesia.

Why Is This Myth Popular?

I think the primary reason for this myth to be famous is the popularity and universal recognition of movies like “Garden of Lies,” “Santa Who?”, Jason Bourne series and other similar motion pictures. As far as these films star world-known actors (Matt Damon, Christina Applegate, Nicole Kidman), people trust everything shown on the screen. It is a nature of the human being: we would rather believe in TV show than in psychological theories. The success of Hollywood products made “51% of Americans say that people with head injuries have more trouble remembering events that happened before the trauma. While 48% are pretty sure that following a head injury, remembering things from one’s past is harder than learning new things” (Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, Beyerstein, 2009, p. 79). That’s how the myths are born: precisely the way gossips do.

The Evidence That Disproves Amnesia Myth

However, one significant evidence has been observed that refutes this legend: Daniel Schachter made a claim based on own psychological examinations and researches that head trauma leads to the potential loss of newly learned information. In fact, past events remain almost perfectly in the patient’s head.

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This fact was proven by the 74-year old man who faced brain surgery to halt his epilepsy. Despite the fact that the operation resulted in the death of brain structures and tissues responsible for long-term memory, an old man started experiencing difficulties with recognizing and memorizing new events and faces. Even reading latest magazines or watching new movies over and over again didn’t force him to recall this information later. Another problem is that often people confuse an extreme stress and shock with the memory loss.

Source: GIPHY

Through ages, the debates around this medical phenomenon achieved the level of suspicion. Today, it is questioned whether the symptoms exist at all. Some argue that amnesia might be a fake diagnosis to avoid financial obligations, receive social benefits, or avoid military service. Recent surveys showed that the representatives of the modern generation doubt the fatal consequences of head injury more than people influenced by the media of the 80's. Thus, 93% of respondents perceive people with severe amnesia as those who can live a full life without any abnormalities. But credible sources like scientific researches still provide enough evidence that people with amnesia do face cognitive deficits, especially in learning something new.

From my point of few, the silliest belief is connected with experiencing one more head injury to get rid of the consequences brought by the first one. It sounds more like an influence of comedian movies with Drew Barrymore rather than serious scientific claim. Besides, none of the experiments have proven that. On the other hand, I trust in the partial memory loss. For me, it seems more persuasive that amnesics experience more difficulties with learning fresh information than recalling previous. And I still support the point these people have to be treated as invalids and receive some social benefits and other privileges.

References

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J., Beyerstein, B. L. (2009). 50 Great Myths of Popular

Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior. Wiley-Blackwell: 78-81