I just read an article on Steven Novella's NeurologicaBlog on temporal binding, a cognitive bias I hadn't seen before:

Temporal binding is a phenomenon that reinforces that assumption of cause and effect once we have linked two events causally in our minds. The effect biases our memory so that we remember the apparent cause and effect occurring closer together in time. In experiments we tend to remember the cause as happening later and the effect happening earlier.

Temporal binding is like the reverse of "post hoc ergo propter hoc", and you could perhaps perhaps also call it "propter hoc ergo post hoc".

New Comment
2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

On a tangent, I found this claim interesting, that he makes about memory in general:

"This is not a conscious or deliberate process – our memories just morph over time. We are not aware of this process, nor can we distinguish an accurate memory from one that has morphed completely out of alignment with reality."

I believe that overstates the matter. I know of one occasion in which I was very much aware of this morphing. I could watch it internally, seeing a memory changing in real time, and I knew it was morphing away from reality. I even explicitly thought at the time, "Oh look, the memory's mutating, let's see how far it's gone when I get a chance to compare it with reality."

For reasons that will become clear, I shall omit identifying details.

I was preparing to attend a formal function (black tie), along with several other people. Among them was a woman who does not normally dress up or wear makeup, but was doing so for this occasion. I briefly glimpsed her when passing in a corridor, and immediately had the reaction, which I hope I hid from her, "Aaah! Corpse Bride!" (Look up the film and you'll get the idea.) And in the few minutes before I saw her again, I could see the image that I had formed from that glimpse becoming more extreme, more and more like the Corpse Bride character. Obviously, her actual appearance was not changing in synchrony with the change in my mental image. And when I next saw her, it was exactly as I expected: I could see what in her appearance had prompted that image, but literally speaking, it really wasn't much like the image.

Yes, I often notice this same morphing of how people look in my memory. After briefly meeting a new person and then leaving them, I often try to remember their face and find the details slipping through my mental grasp, until I’m imagining someone else, such as a classmate from high school, who I’m more familiar with and who looks a bit like the new person. When this happens, I think to myself, “oh, it’s happened again, I’ve forgotten what they look like already”.