Hey, remember that time you cheated, stole, lied or [insert another lapse of ethics here]?
No? If your memory of past transgressions is hazy, there’s a scientific explanation for that. It seems that humans are blessed with “unethical amnesia.” We have trouble recalling our own bad behaviour.
A set of studies at Harvard and Northwestern University shows that when we act dishonourably, we tend to forget the details more quickly compared to other kinds of memories. Apparently, we’re so invested in maintaining a positive self-image that our brains try to avoid any evidence to the contrary. So when people cheat on their taxes or lie to their bosses, they unconsciously refrain from thinking too hard about it – lest it threaten their belief that they are good, kind and pure souls.
What’s the solution? If you start a practice of reflecting back on your day’s deeds, your brain won’t be able to blur out the bad times quite so easily. “A habit of self-reflection helps to keep such memories alive and to learn from them,” co-author Maryam Kouchaki says in a press release.
Sure, it may be painful to relive your more imperfect moments. But perhaps it’s worth it, if it helps you behave better next time.