Here’s some hard evidence showing the questionable reliability of stories that are recalled long after the fact — something that credulous New Testament scholars (like Bishop N.T. Wright) would be well-advised to keep in mind when they claim that X or Y really did happen in 33 AD:
… The Harvard data illustrate this phenomenon [of memory distortion] well.
In 1946, for example, 34 percent of the Grant Study men who had served in World War II reported having come under enemy fire, and 25 percent said they had killed an enemy. In 1988, the first number climbed to 40 percent—and the second fell to about 14 percent.
“As is well known,” Vaillant concluded, “with the passage of years, old wars become more adventurous and less dangerous.”
Distortions can clearly serve a protective function. In a test involving a set of pictures, older people tend to remember fewer distressing images (like snakes) and more pleasant ones (like Ferris wheels) than younger people.
By giving a profound shape to aging, this tendency can make for a softer, rounder old age, but also a deluded one. …
From Joshua Wolf Shenk, What Makes Us Happy? in The Atlantic, June 2009 (emphasis and extra paragraphing added).