Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Are False Memories Psi-Conducive?

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Are False Memories Psi-Conducive?

Article excerpt

SUSAN BLACKMORE [1]

ABSTRACT: S. J. Blackmore and N.J. Rose (1997) reported an experiment that used false memory creation to generate a significant psi effect. This article reports a series of 3 experiments that attempted to replicate this effect and examines the relationship between false memory creation and paranormal belief. Experiment 1 is a faithful replication of the original. Experiment 2 is a computerised version involving individual participant trials, but because of a computer error, no psi scores were obtained. Experiment S is an improved version of the original, designed to maximise the number of false memories obtained. Experiments 1 and 3 failed to find a significant psi effect, and all 3 experiments found no relationship between false memory creation and belief in the paranormal.

Blackmore and Rose (1997) reported an experiment designed to examine the operation of psi when reality and imagination were confused. The original experiment used a situation in which participants were encouraged to generate false memories of common household objects.

The topic of false memory is highly relevant to parapsychologists and psychical researchers in two ways. First, it may be the case that psi lurks in this borderline between reality and imagination. There are abundant examples of phenomena that appear to utilise such a confusion: spontaneous cases, which often involve "realistic dreams," lucid dreams, false awakenings, hypnagogic images, waking imagery, and sleep paralysis; and states in which reality and imagination are often confused. The occult traditions, for example, shamanistic traditions that entail the use of drugs and sensory deprivation to induce altered states of consciousness in which imagery is enhanced, and experienced journeys are interpreted as real excursions. Finally, laboratory psi techniques, for example, the use of hypnosis or encouraging imagery to arise unbidden, can also be thought of as utilising this kind of confusion.

Alternatively, confusions between reality and imagination can represent a serious problem for parapsychologists and psychical researchers who often have to rely on eyewitness reports of spontaneous, ostensibly psychic, or paranormal events. The fact that the investigation of spontaneous phenomena relies so heavily, in most cases, on eyewitness testimony is a concern, as even the most honest and confident witness may be reporting a false memory. To understand the extent of the potential problem, we review briefly the range of techniques that have been found to be effective for the creation of false memories.

It has long been known that asking leading questions can influence a person's memory for events. Questions asked immediately after an event can introduce new, and not necessarily correct, information, which is then incorporated into the memory of the event (Loftus, 1975). For example, Loftus (1974) asked leading questions to participants who had watched a film of an automobile crash and elicited higher estimates of vehicle speed by using the word smashed in place of words like collided or hit. She found that even changing the words a broken headlight to the broken headlight led some witnesses of a film to be certain that they saw a broken headlight when, in fact, they did not. This effect, sometimes called the misinformation effect, can be resisted by a person who has a strong recollection of some detail and who is asked to make a decision or commitment about a particular detail. However, if a person has no original recollection of a detail, new information has a good chance of being incorporated in the memor y of the witness, particularly if the new information is plausible within the context or is delayed for some time after the event (see Loftus, 1979). In later experiments, Loftus (1993) created entire memories for childhood events that never happened by having a relative encourage teenage participants to "remember" that they had been lost in a shopping mall. …

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