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A new study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals an uncomfortable fact about the anxiously attached individual: their minds falsify memories far more than the average person. In fact, people with anxious attachment styles are more likely to misinterpret facts about everyday social situations, such as when a person is relaying information to them in person or on a video call.
The article, authored by Nathan Hudson of Southern Methodist University and William Chopik of Michigan State University, focused on adults with attachment anxiety, that is, people who frequently worry about being rejected or abandoned by people close to them.
The study randomly assigned participants to watch a 20-minute video of a woman talking about her tumultuous breakup with a man or another topic, such as a shopping trip or the ecology of California’s wetlands. Other participants obtained the same information only by audio or by reading a transcript. All groups took a memory test immediately after receiving the information, regardless of how it was delivered.
The study found that anxious participants who watched the video were more likely to misunderstand the details of the information compared to those who received the information through other means.
According to Hudson, seeing the speaker could be a factor in memory distortion because anxiously attached people tend to be hypervigilant in monitoring facial expressions. They also tend to misjudge the perceived emotional states of others.
“We believe that highly attachment-anxious individuals are likely intensely analyzing what is being said in the videos we show them,” Hudson said. “Their own thoughts and feelings about the video may have been confused with the actual content of the video in their minds. Thus, they experienced false memories when we did a test on video content.”
These findings explain how our personalities can interfere with accurate memory recording and recall.
Hudson explained that creating memory as a process is inherently error-prone.
“It’s important to understand that our brains don’t store textual audio or video clips of events that happen to us,” he said. “Instead, our brains store bits and pieces of information about our experiences. When we try to recall a memory, it combines the stored bits of related information and makes its best guess about what happened.”
Add to this an attachment-anxious personality’s belief that they are not worthy of love and care, their intense fear of rejection, and their tendency to overanalyze their relationships, and we can understand why sometimes two people in the same relationship have differences. dramatic. stories to tell about the same events.
According to the authors, their study may serve as a wake-up call for people with attachment anxiety. These findings can bring attention to interpersonal situations where they are likely to have false memories – for example, during online or face-to-face lectures, talking with colleagues and friends or watching political debates.
In such situations, Hudson suggested that supplementing the information received during face-to-face encounters with reading and listening activities is likely to improve memory accuracy for individuals with an anxious attachment style of relationship.
Hudson added that most people want to moderate their attachment anxiety, and interventions can help them do that, leading to better well-being. His research suggests that switching to a more secure attachment style can positively affect memory processes, and he hopes that future research can help people move in that direction.