Quick, where were you when you heard about the 9/11 attacks? Who were you with? If you’re like most people, you’ve got answers at the ready. But as it turns out, there’s a decent chance your answers are wrong, reportsTime. That’s the upshot of a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which examines people’s remembrances after the attacks. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, researchers across the country asked more than 2,000 people about their personal experiences with 9/11. When researchers followed up at later intervals, about 40% of the stories—or “flashbulb memories,” as they’re called in the vernacular—had changed. “Human memory is not like a computer,” says study author William Hirst of the New School for Social Research. “Human memory is extremely fallible.”
One quirk: The stories tended to change fairly early, say in the first year, and then remain constant after that. “You begin to weave a very coherent story,” says Hirst. “And when you have a structured, coherent story, it’s retained for a very long period of time.” Another 9/11 study suggests that the stress of the day took a toll on the heart health of Americans, even those far removed from the attacks.