False Memory

“A house made of hay and earth. There are small deities inside adorned with beads made of flower. They look old and pale and full of repudiations. A small ground out front that interconnects.. something..”

Looking back at “it”, I don’t quite remember whether it is a dream or a memory. If it is a dream therefore I must have dreamed of it as a child and if it’s a memory, I’m quite certain it’s filled with glitches and false information.

Most of us have the notion that our memory is solid and works in a way where we are only able to either remember things or forget things. Where as a matter of fact, our memory works in a quite intricate way. It can transform, change, reform and be unreliable at times. We can falsely remember a childhood event that never took place through effective suggestions. We can be tricked into changing a particular event that did took place or tricked into remembering events that never took place at all. While we might think of our memory as photographs that either preserve every details of our lives or do not, in reality our memory can be a downright lie filled with false or glitched information.

A false memory is a phenomena where a person recalls things differently. There is a growing body of evidence that false memories can be created whenever memories are recalled. Recent research has helped us to understand just how fragile human memory can be. In 1974, Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer conducted a study to investigate the effects of language on the development of false memory. The experiment involved two separate studies.

In the first study, Participants were shown videos of car accident and then asked some questions about what they saw in the videos. The question always asked the same thing, except the verb used to describe the accident was different (smashed into, bumped, collided, hit and other). Participants who were asked the “smashed” question thought the cars were going faster than those who were asked the “hit” question. The participants in the “smashed” condition reported the highest speed estimate (40.8 mph), followed by “collided” (39.3 mph), “bumped” (38.1 mph), “hit” (34 mph), and “contacted” (31.8 mph) in descending order. In conclusion, the verb used in the question changed a person’s perception of the accident and this perception was then stored in a person’s memory of the event.

In the second study, participants were shown videos of a car accident as well but the critical thing was the verbiage of the follow-up questionnaire. 150 participants were randomly assigned to three conditions. It was manipulated by asking 50 students ‘how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?’, another 50 ‘how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?’, and the remaining 50 participants were not asked a question at all. The researchers then asked the participants if they had seen any broken glass, knowing that there was no broken glass in the video. The responses to this question had shown that the difference between whether broken glass was recalled or not heavily depended on the verb used. A larger sum of participants in the “smashed” group declared that there was broken glass.

In these studies the first point brought up in discussion is that the words used in a question can heavily influence the answer. The second point was the words used in a question can give expectations to previously ignored details. Nonetheless, in both conclusion, one thing was certain that phrasing of a question can alter our memory recall process. Loftus also suggests that false memories form more readily when enough time has passed that the original memory has faded.

However, common mistakes like, a memory that you didn’t lock your front door while walking into your home can be counted in as well. Researchers have found that false memories are one of the causes of false convictions too, usually through the false identification of a suspect or false recollections of events during police interrogations.

However, inferences, misinformation, misattribution, suggestibility can create false memories as well. Many people do not realize how common false memory really is and how memory is not as reliable as we think it is.

Photo from pixabay

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_memory

14 thoughts on “False Memory

  1. Would you mind if I used this post as an example of how important verb choice is in my next lot of creative writing workshops (they don’t start till mid January)? If it’s okay I’ll copy a little of the text, probably the first paragraph about the Loftus and Palmer study, and provide your name and URL.

    Liked by 1 person

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