A new study has revealed that the human brain actually works in reverse when recalling details of our memories.
The research, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham's Center for Human Brain Health, involved reconstructing the memory retrieval process using special brain decoding techniques that make it possible to track when a unique memory is being reactivated.
For the study, participants were each shown images of specific objects and were asked to associate each of them with a unique reminder word. After a certain time had passed, they were then presented with one of these reminder words and asked to reconstruct the image in as much detail as possible.
The findings indicated that when the brain retrieves memories about a specific object, it begins by first focusing on the core meaning of that object before recalling more specific details.
When a person encounters an object for the first time however, the brain focuses initially on the visual aspects such as patterns and colors, before moving on to the meaning afterwards.
"We know that our memories are not exact replicas of the things we originally experienced," said study lead author Juan Linde Domingo. "Memory is a reconstructive process, biased by personal knowledge and world views - sometimes we even remember events that never actually happened. "
"If our memories prioritise conceptual information, this also has consequences for how our memories change when we repeatedly retrieve them."
"It suggests they will become more abstract and gist-like with each retrieval. Although our memories seem to appear in our 'internal eye' as vivid images, they are not simple snapshots from the past, but reconstructed and biased representations."