Deutsch: Rekonstruktives Gedächtnis / Español: Memoria reconstructiva / Português: Memória reconstrutiva / Français: Mémoire reconstructive / Italiano: Memoria ricostruttiva

Reconstructive memory is a concept in psychology that refers to the way memories are not stored as complete snapshots but rather are reconstructed by the mind each time they are recalled. This theory, proposed by psychologist Frederic Bartlett, challenges the idea of memory as a static and accurate recording of events. Instead, it suggests that recalling an event involves piecing together various stored information to construct a coherent narrative, which may be influenced by one's knowledge, beliefs, expectations, and social context.


Reconstructive memory plays a critical role in understanding human cognition and memory processes. It posits that the act of remembering is dynamic and creative, rather than merely retrieving exact copies of past experiences. This reconstruction process is influenced by many factors, including schemas—mental frameworks that help individuals organize and interpret information. Schemas fill in gaps in our memories based on prior knowledge and expectations, which can lead to distortions or inaccuracies in recalled events.

The concept highlights how memories can be malleable and subject to change over time. This malleability can lead to the incorporation of false details into memories, either through suggestion, the merging of separate memories, or the influence of current beliefs and emotions. Consequently, reconstructive memory has significant implications for the reliability of eyewitness testimony, the understanding of false memories, and the therapeutic processes addressing past traumas.

Application Areas

Reconstructive memory is relevant in various fields within psychology and related disciplines:

  • Cognitive psychology: It helps in understanding how memories are formed, stored, and recalled.
  • Forensic psychology: Impacts the assessment of eyewitness testimony and the reliability of memory in legal contexts.
  • Clinical psychology: Informs therapeutic techniques for dealing with distorted memories related to traumatic events or psychological disorders.
  • Educational psychology: Influences teaching methods and strategies for improving learning and memory recall.

Well-Known Examples

  • Eyewitness testimony research by Elizabeth Loftus: Loftus' experiments demonstrate how suggestions can lead to the creation of false memories or alter existing ones, underscoring the reconstructive nature of memory.
  • Bartlett's "War of the Ghosts" experiment: This study showed how people's recall of a story is influenced by their cultural background and personal biases, leading to significant alterations in the retold story.

Treatment and Risks

The reconstructive nature of memory poses challenges in contexts where accurate recall is crucial, such as in legal settings. Misremembered details can lead to wrongful convictions or the misidentification of individuals. In therapeutic settings, understanding reconstructive memory is vital for addressing false memories and helping patients differentiate between accurate and altered recollections of past events.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Memory reconstruction
  • Memory distortion
  • Schema-driven memory


Reconstructive memory is a fundamental concept in psychology that describes how memories are actively reconstructed rather than passively retrieved. This perspective highlights the dynamic and subjective nature of memory, influenced by an individual's schemas, beliefs, and social context. Understanding this process is crucial across various applications, from legal practices to therapeutic interventions, due to its implications for the reliability and accuracy of memory recall.