False Memory

Memory works through three distinct processes; perception or registration, storage and retrieval. Perception is influenced by arousal, emotional state and an underlying intelligence filter. Storage is affected by the structural and physiological integrity of the brain. If there is a loss in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is needed to be able to store new information, then perceptions are not able to be stored. Retrieval of information is affected by emotional state, arousal and current perceptions.

However, the brain is not a computer and the hippocampus is not a hard drive. Memory is fluid, not fixed, and is continually being reconstructed. Old memories are changing all the time as they are affected by our current perception and the previous records of those memories are erased. Therefore, old memories could instead be recent suggestions from another person. The new perception of an old memory become, unconsciously, changed. Thus the actual memory could easily be changed involuntarily.

Human memory is highly suggestible and can be created, falsely, through different techniques, for example guided imagery, hypnosis and suggestion by others. These techniques are not guaranteed to create false memories, as each individual is different, but once the memories are falsely created the recaller will ‘remember' and defend those events as if they were real, even after they have been told that they were deliberately implanted in their minds.

Robinson and Roegiger found, in 1997, many factors that affect the creation of false memory. The chance of a false memory being created is generally increased when something similar also happens. Experiments were carried out where participants were given a list of words. When asked if related words were on the list many participants remembered incorrectly that these words were on the original list. These were not mistakes, but were instead false memories as the ‘memories' were recalled over and over again in future clinical tests. In fact as the tests progressed the presented words were recalled less, but the false words were remembered more. One of the main differences between true memories and false memories was studied by Norman and Schacter in 1996. They found that true memories had more perceptual and contextual information compared to false memories. However, this experiment has been questioned as memories can generally be created by tangential information.

It is possible to construct false memories by combining real memories with content and suggestions received externally from other sources. During this process, it is possible for an individual to forget the original source of information. This is called source confusion and occurs when the content and the source become dissociated from each other. However, there is a danger that because it is possible to implant false memories in some people that it is possible to believe that all long-term memories are false. It is in fact very hard to distinguish between genuine memories and false memories without an external judge to say that a memory is definitely false.

One of the biggest reasons for the creation of false memory can be to forget a past history of sexual abuse. For example, a person may choose to forget the whole traumatic experience. In later life, in therapy, it could be remembered as the person tries to work out why there are problems with career progression or difficulties in forming relationships. It is important for therapists in cases like these to reconcile the self of the person with the memory, even though it might be traumatic, in order for the patient to be able to get on with life. With help from a therapist it is possible to create a self place and a trusting relationship. This can help someone who has suffered from child abuse confront the past and remember it correctly, however traumatic it may be. This will enable and empower the person to constructively move on to the future in a positive way. With help, therefore, it is possible to replace a false memory with a real memory although this may not be an easy process.

False Memory: Selected full-text books and articles

False-Memory Creation in Children and Adults: Theory, Research, and Implications
David F. Bjorklund.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
The Handbook of Memory Disorders
Alan D. Baddeley; Michael D. Kopelman; Barbara A. Wilson.
John Wiley & Sons, 2002 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "The Cognitive Neuropsychology of False Memories: Theory and Data"
Memory Distortions and Their Prevention
Margaret Jean Intons-Peterson; Deborah L. Best.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective
Neil Brewer; Kipling D. Williams.
Guilford Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "False Memories"
Children, Social Science, and the Law
Bette L. Bottoms; Margaret Bull Kovera; Bradley D. McAuliff.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Children's Eyewitness Memory: True Disclosures and False Reports"
Child Sexual Abuse and False Memory Syndrome
Robert A. Baker.
Prometheus Books, 1998
Lies!, Lies!!, Lies!!! The Psychology of Deceit
Charles V. Ford.
American Psychiatric Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "False Memories, False Accusations, and False Confessions"
Inventing Stories: Forcing Witnesses to Fabricate Entire Fictitious Events Leads to Freely Reported False Memories
Chrobak, Quin M.; Zaragoza, Maria S.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 15, No. 6, December 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
False Memories and Fantastic Beliefs: 15 Years of the DRM Illusion
Gallo, David A.
Memory & Cognition, Vol. 38, No. 7, October 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Actually, a Picture Is Worth Less Than 45 Words: Narratives Produce More False Memories Than Photographs Do
Garry, Maryanne; Wade, Kimberley A.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, April 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
"You and Your Best Friend Suzy Put Slime in Ms. Smollett's Desk": Producing False Memories with Self-Relevant Details
Desjardins, Tracy; Scoboria, Alan.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 14, No. 6, December 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Is Knowing Believing? the Role of Event Plausibility and Background Knowledge in Planting False Beliefs about the Personal Past
Pezdek, Kathy; Blandon-Gitlin, Iris; Lam, Shirley; Hart, Rhiannon Ellis; Schooler, Jonathan W.
Memory & Cognition, Vol. 34, No. 8, December 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Memory and Suggestibility in the Forensic Interview
Mitchell L. Eisen; Jodi A. Quas; Gail S. Goodman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Recovered Memories: Seeking the Middle Ground
Graham M. Davies; Tim Dalgleish.
Wiley, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 7 "Is It Possible to Discriminate True from False Memories?" and Chap. 6 "Discovering Fact and Fiction: Case-Based Analyses of Authentic and Fabricated Discovered Memories of Abuse"
Human Learning and Memory: Advances in Theory and Application
Chizuko Izawa; Nobuo Ohta.
L. Erlbaum, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Fuzzy-Trace Theory: Memory"
The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State
Nancy Whittier.
Oxford University Press, 2009
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Turning Tides: Countermovement Organizing, 'False Memory Syndrome,' and the Struggle over Scientific Knowledge"
New Feminist Stories of Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual Scripts and Dangerous Dialogues
Paula Reavey; Sam Warner.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Creating Discourses of 'False Memory'"
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