James Comey and memory rehearsal: storing some details while others fade

June 2017

Former FBI Director James Comey started recording detailed memos of his interactions with President Donald Trump immediately after their first one-on-one meeting -- a fact that came up during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee June 8.

An FBI agent's contemporaneous notes are widely considered reliable evidence of conversations, but there is a downside to such a memory archiving method, says Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of psychology and social behavior. Replaying events to write them down is a form of "rehearsal," or a way to better retain memories. While that rehearsing can help strengthen recollection of some details, it actually allows other non-rehearsed details to fade faster, a process known as retrieval-induced forgetting.

"If you see some event and you rehearse parts of it, those parts you rehearse are strengthened in memory, but at the same time, the non-rehearsed parts are weakened in memory," Loftus told HuffPost.

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