Trust warps memory to keep love strong

NORTHWESTERN (US) — Trust fools us into remembering our partners as more considerate and less hurtful than they actually were, say researchers.

People who are highly trusting tended to remember transgressions in a way that benefits the relationship, remembering partner transgressions as less severe than they originally reported them to be.

People low on trust demonstrated the opposite pattern, remembering partner transgressions as being more severe than how they originally reported them to be.


“One of the ways that trust is so good for relationships is that it makes us partly delusional,” says Eli J. Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Laura B. Luchies, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Redeemer University College, says the current psychological reality of your relationship isn’t what actually happened in the past, but rather the frequently distorted memory of what actually happened.

“You can remember your partner as better or as worse than he/she really was, and those biased memories are important determinants of how you think about your partner and your relationship,” she says.

Researchers have long known that trust is crucial to a well-functioning relationship.

“This research,” which is the first to systematically examine the role of trust in biasing memories of transgressions in romantic partnerships, “presents a newer, deeper understanding,” Finkel says. “It reveals that trust yields relationship-promoting distortions of the past.”

“If you talk to people who really trust their partner now, they forget some of the negative things their partner did in the past. If they don’t trust their partner much, they remember their partner doing negative things that the partner never actually did. They tend to misremember,” Luchies explains.

Researchers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of London, the University of Texas at Austin contributed to the study.

Source: Northwestern University