#204 – Forming False Memories

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Based on research by Loftus, E. F., & Pickrell, J. E. (1995) written by Mara Rowcliffe, MS.

Thousands of studies show our memories are imperfect. Can false memories be ‘implanted’ or suggested to us?

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an experiment to better understand the creation of false memories. She interviewed a close relative to find out details of the 24 participants’ early childhood experiences plus a plausible shopping trip description. She then asked the participants to recall four specific events occurring in their childhood. Three of the events were true, and one was a false event about getting lost while shopping. Participants wrote about these 4 events in detail, and were later interviewed on two different occasions. The experiment revealed that participants remembered 68% of the true events. While 75% said they had no memory of being lost, 25% claimed to remember the fake event and they persistently reported it over the next two interviews.

This study reveals that people can be misled to believe that an entire event happened to them when it actually did not. This finding might explain how interrogation has led innocent people to confess crimes they did not commit or witnesses to reveal details that did not happen.

References:

Loftus, E. F., & Pickrell, J. E. (1995). The formation of false memories. Psychiatric annals, 25(12), 720-725.

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