Why we lose certain details of our memory and why we remember some


Leveling and Sharpening

, explained.

What is Leveling and Sharpening?

Leveling and sharpening are concepts that have been introduced by early Gestalt psychologists as memory distortions that occurs when we fail to remember details of a certain memory. In psychology, leveling occur when some details are lost or it can also happen when we want to tone down certain moment.


Sharpening is how we remember and emphasise smaller details that are consistent with our cognitive framework and affects how we retell the stories. Sharpening can even influence us to add some details that weren’t there! These automatic function of our memory makes it easier to fill in the gaps. Both biases get worse over time as we tell our stories and reshape certain details.


A study explored the influence of gender stereotypes on the recollection of a story. For the purpose of the study, the experimenters told the same story except that they changed from “John’s” story to “Sylvia’s” story and changed all gender words. A group of participants would listen to both story and fill out a survey asking them “what has changed from John’s to Sylvia’s story”. The results showed impressive leveling and sharpening details. From Sylvia’s story, the leveling was that participants massively forgot that she “hated” Terry, another character in the story. However, when it was John’s story what the participants forgot was that to cope with his sadness he baked, cried, and took a long bath. On the sharpening level, from Sylvia’s story the participants added details that weren’t mentioned in the original story like “she hugged her teddy bear”, “she shopped all day”, etc. On the sharpening level, from John’s story, participants added instead of simply playing video games he played “violent video games”, “drank beer” and “became very aggressive”.