Soo..Life isn’t like a box of videos?

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In Paramount Pictures 1994 hit movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks -Forrest-, takes us as well as the stranger sitting next to him, on the journey of his life. Forrest recounts his life as if it were a story, a long winded movie almost, very detailed in orientation and very little left out. Though this movie has received great popularity, and is regarded highly among most, there is an unavoidable cognitive error within the story-line. We do not store information within our memory like videos. We are not able to recount memories as if they were movies, because they are not stored as such in our long-term memory. Similar to that of knowledge networks, our memory can be represented by networks of associations and connections; these networks are ever-changing and are updated frequently. Memory distortion and source error are common when identifying mental experiences. 

Because these networks are constantly being updated, we find that current information (such as mood or other disruptive mechanisms) change our recollection of past events. For example Forrest recalls the day he met Jenny on the bus and how taken aback he was by her beauty. He explains how he instantly fell for her and her looks. Though, psychology has shown that this feeling, may just be a projection of his current feelings for her back to the original encounter he had with her on the bus. Psychology has also found that, “The schema-based inferences we make in simply comprehending events initially can later be misattributed to perception.” (Johnson). In Forrest Gump there can be several examples of this all throughout his recognition of his past life events. Growing up Forrest’s mother ran a boarding house out of their home, where several tenants would come to live for a short time. When Forrest was young he recalls meeting Elvis Presley who happened to be staying at Forrest’s. Though, this may not seem like a memory you’d make up, there is a possibility that Forrest schematically associated anyone who played the guitar and dances, to Elvis Presley. According to the scientific journal, “people sometimes confuse what they inferred or imagined and what actually happened, what they saw and what was suggested to them…” (Johnson). So it is sad to say that we will never truly know Forrest Gump’s life story. 

  The scientific journal did a good job of explaining the ways in which source memory errors occur in individuals. It explains in great detail how “anything that disrupts the binding of features…into a complex event memory…will reduce source memory.” (Johnson). It does a great job in explaining how frequently source confusion occurs. The journal went into more depth about sources such as brain damage, which could also cause source memory error within individuals. It would have been nice if it touched base on the idea of memory not being like a video.

Although Forrest Gump is a highly regarded movie, memory retrieval is not as simple as pressing play and seeing your whole life story play out on a small tv screen in your head. It is hard to believe our recollection of our childhood is based on information someone told us, or a picture that we saw of ourselves and made up a story about. Our memories are ever changing due to new encoded information and factors that distort our recollection of a situation. We updated our recollection of a situation based on what is needed now. So don’t be sad in knowing that our memories don’t work like they do in the movies, always remember “Life is like a box of chocolates!” (Silvestri). 


Johnson, M K. “Source monitoring and memory distortion.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 352,1362 (1997): 1733-45. doi:10.1098/rstb.1997.0156

Silvestri, Alan. Forrest Gump : Original Motion Picture Score. New York :Sony Music Entertainment, 1994.

2 thoughts on “Soo..Life isn’t like a box of videos?

  1. tsiburn

    I really like how you took such a popular movie and put a cognitive psychology spin on a review! I definitely agree that we cannot perfectly retell the major events that happen in our lives. While some experiences are accounted for in more detail in our memories, the more new experiences and information we learn, the more these memories are susceptible to being compromised. This post also made me think of more questions about how we recall memories of major events that take place in our lives. How do retroactive and proactive memory play a role in the recall of our life experiences? In instances of high emotion, positive or negative, how does our recall of those instances differ from those with low emotion? If so, why is this? Do our brains store emotional memories differently than anything else?

  2. cbilly

    This was such a fun read. Its crazy because sometimes it feels like our memories play out like a movie even when that isn’t the case. I feel like the movie choice was very creative and I didn’t completely understand how new information can influence memories until you gave the example about the scene on the bus. Also the Elvis Presley explanation totally blew my mind, that explains so much. I am glad you used multiple examples from the movie. All together this post was awesome!

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