Our memory is imperfect The press

The other day little discomfort when opening mine Hurry up. A mother made the front page with this caption: “No one should go through what I went through”1.

Posted at 5:00 am

What she witnessed: Her 6-month-old son died of heat in the car, forgotten by his (now ex-)wife.

It is impossible to read Emilie Bilodeau’s text about the pain of this mother, Anaïs Perlot, without feeling a lump in your stomach.

To summarize: In 2018, at the beginning of the summer, the father had to hand over the child to the day care center.

He forgot to hand in the child, he went to work.

And the child died.

According to the police investigation, the father was not charged. Like Saint-Jérôme’s father in 2016, who also left his child in a car. In 2003, a father was charged with manslaughter over the same fatal accident of his child, but the Crown eventually dropped the charges.

The mother of little Cassius, in The pressShe had two messages on Monday.

Firstly, she demands that we put safety devices in cars so that a child left alone can be recognized and an alarm triggered if necessary. The coroner who examined Cassius’ death asks the same question.

Second, she wonders why the father has not been charged. She considers filing a private lawsuit to reactivate the file so the father can be charged.

And it was precisely on this second point that I felt uneasy.

My discomfort is unrelated to the criminal complaint that Mr.me Perlot is considering filing a complaint against her ex – a procedure that rarely works.

She has every right.

At Paul Arcand2Mme Perlot went further than in The press, and claimed that facts may have eluded the police. If so, reopen the case.

My uneasiness comes from the certainties of Mme Perlot on the nature of forgetting in humans. I quote her: “If someone is always on their phone, remembering to never forget it, wherever they go, but not asking the question with their child, that’s a problem for me. Another quote: “If a parent forgets their child in the car, it is not an accident.” I owe her, son. »

I say it with three pairs of white gloves and walking on eggshells: Mme Perlot is wrong.

That is not my opinion, but that of David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who has been studying these tragedies since 2004. I was talking about the Dright Diamond in 2016 after the Saint-Jérôme tragedy3. He was quoted in an investigation by Washington Post about these tragedies that have claimed the lives of 1,000 people in the United States since 19904.

“Our memories are imperfect,” David Diamond told me in an interview earlier this week. Many people say in these cases: “Of course you can forget a lot … But you can’t forget your child!” I understand this reaction. But it’s unfounded. »

Memory is a skill that forgets, they say. One might add that memory works at different levels, all activated by different parts of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, the basal ganglia…

Professor Diamond has been studying human memory since 1980. He has spoken to dozens of parents who have fatally abandoned their child in a car since 2004. He has testified in about 20 lawsuits against criminally accused parents.

And it is clear to him: these parents were betrayed by two competing memory mechanisms, prospective memory and habitual memory.5.

Habit memory: the one that governs the routine, that makes us go to work as if on autopilot, without having to enter the address of our workplace in Google Maps five mornings a week.

Prospective memory: The one that regulates things to be done in the future, such as not forgetting to drop off the child at the CPE this morning when you drive to work.

“In almost every one of these tragedies there is a break in routine,” says David Diamond. For example: The forgetting parent is not the one who normally takes the child to daycare. »

Now the conscious brain is structured for routine. In these tragedies of children fatally forgotten in a car, habitual memory destroys future memory.

Every week, habitual memory overwrites our prospective memory. For example, if you forget to stop at the supermarket on your way back from work, even though you thought you didn’t have anything for dinner…

“But people say you can’t forget your kid, teacher…

“I know,” replies David Diamond. It is a mystery to many people. But if you accept that someone can If you forget your child in the car, you can forget them too. It’s like accepting that you don’t love your child. So people frame the issue like this: good parents who don’t forget their kids versus bad ones who forget them in the car…”

One day, David Diamond testified in a lawsuit for a parent who fatally left their child in a car.

“The parent always said it was impossible to forget their child, that it would never happen to them… And it happened to them. »

where m.me Perlot is absolutely right when she speaks of the urgency of enforcing technological solutions so that children are not left behind in the car.

These technologies exist6.

The state has seat belts, airbags, brake lights, impact resistance standards, winter tires, ABS brakes, child seats, windshield wipers…

Why don’t we use the devices that would make it possible to warn when a child is left in a car, thanks to the deficiencies of habitual memory?

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