why we make mistakes
What is seen as the eyes move about depends, in part, on who is doing the seeing. Men, for instance, have been shown to notice different things from those that women do. When viewing a mock purse snatching by a male thief, for instance, women tended to notice the appearance and actions of the woman whose purse was being snatched; men on the other hand, were more accurate regarding details about the thief. Right-handed people have also been shown to remember the orientation of certain objects they have seen more accurately than left-handers do. Years ago, after the Hale-Bopp comet made a spectacular appearance in the evening skies, investigators in England asked left- and right-handers if they could remember which way the comet had been facing when they saw it. Right-handers were significantly more likely than lefties to remember that the comet had been facing to the left. Handedness is also the best predictor of a person’s directional preference. When people are forced to make a turn at an intersection, right-handers, at least in the United States, prefer turning right, and lefties prefer turning left. As a result, advised the authors of one study, “one should look to the left when searching for the shortest lines of people at stores, banks, and the like.”
. . . In the 1970s, the noted psychologist Harry Bahrick conducted a landmark study that will interest anyone who has recently attended a class reunion–or plans to. Bahrick and his colleagues asked hundreds of former high school students to look back at their yearbooks and see whether they could remember the faces of their classmates. What they discovered is a tribute to the power of human memory. For decades after graduation the memory of former students for the faces of their classmates was nearly unimpaired. Even after nearly half a century had elapsed, the former students could still recognize 73 percent of faces of their classmates.
But when it comes to names, Bahrick found,memories were much worse; after nearly fifty years the former students could remember only 18 percent of their classmates’ names. Names, for whatever reason,do not stick very well in our memories, or they stick only partway, causing us to call our brother-in-law Bob, Rob, or to mistake the author Ernest Hemingway for the actor Ernest Borgnine.