Your memory is a wily time traveler, plucking fragments of the present and inserting them into the past, reports a new Northwestern Medicine® study. In terms of accuracy, it’s no video camera.

Rather, the memory rewrites the past with current information, updating your recollections with new experiences. Love at first sight, for example, is more likely a trick of your memory than a Hollywood-worthy moment.

“When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria,” said lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person.”

The study, published February 5 in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to show specifically how memory is faulty, and how it can insert things from the present into memories of the past when those memories are retrieved.

To help us survive, Bridge said, our memories adapt to an ever-changing environment and help us deal with what’s important now.

“Our memory is not like a video camera,” Bridge said. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.”

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