The Anthill

Anthill 12: Don’t remember this

In this episode of The Anthill podcast we delve into the world of memory. We talk to psychologists, historians and political scientists about how and why we remember some things and forget others.

First up, our science editor, Miriam Frankel, finds out why people are susceptible to remembering things that didn’t actually happen to them. Psychologists Martin Conway, a professor at City University, and Sue Sherman, a senior lecturer at Keele University, describe some of the many experiments that have been done to implant false memories into people’s brains. This may explain why one The Conversation editor has a memory of being born (which also features on the podcast).

While it may not matter so much if your memories of childhood are a bit hazy, the phenomenon of false memories poses significant problems for the criminal justice system. In fact, common misunderstandings of the nature of memories can be detrimental to the way that crime is investigated and judged.

Judgements can hinge on false memories. shutterstock.com

From memories of things that didn’t actually happen, we turn to the act of deliberate forgetting. The Anthill producer, Gemma Ware, takes a look at the politics of history teaching. She speaks with historian Sean Lang from Anglia Ruskin University about the different ways that governments attempt to whitewash their past.

As well as posing problems for students, the way that curricula are written can also lead to diplomatic spats. Take Japan’s beef with its neighbours over the way that various details of World War II are taught. Taku Tamaki, lecturer in international relations at Loughborough University, explains the controversy over “comfort women” – and why it is an enduring flashpoint in Japan’s relations with South Korea especially.

Lastly, we ponder the effect of social media and the ubiquity of smartphones on the public figures of the future. Now that much of our stupid behaviour and opinions get recorded, will this lead to a world where public figures have to be squeaky clean? Or will we learn to accept that most young people do things that they go on to regret? To investigate, Will de Freitas spoke to Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a professor at Cardiff University’s school of journalism, media and cultural studies.


Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including The Future, Beliefs and Self-experimentation.

The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. Music in the false memories section is Anamalie by Kevin MacLeod and music in the history textbooks section is by Drone D, by Kevin McLeod. The news clip about David Cameron is from the BBC, the clip about South Korea and Japan’s fallout over comfort women is from France24, the clip of Empire Day is from the Great British Archive and the clip of Barack Obama is from MSNBC.

A big thanks to City University London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios.

Facts matter. Your tax-deductible donation helps deliver fact-based journalism.