Posts Tagged ‘False Memory’

“I Swear It Happened!” But It Never Did…

April 27th, 2018 2 comments

Image 1- Ok, Gerard… 

Has someone ever told you a tale that made you think, “That just can’t be true!”. Well, you may be right. Here’s the thing, you may fondly remember your eighth birthday party at a local barn with a bunch of cute animals. You and your friends rode the horses, brushed the horses, and you even remember feeding the horses straight from your hand. Oh, and the cake! Your mother ordered a special strawberry shortcake for your birthday party. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, and you remember that party like it was yesterday. But the even more important thing is, none of this really happened.

In reality, you have never ridden a horse in your life and you are allergic to strawberries… Even when a childhood friend of yours gently reminds you that that never really happened, you still firmly believe (and can even remember specific details!) that your eighth birthday party happened exactly that way (Pederson, 2018). Your friend softly says to you, “You have created a confabulation”, to which you respond, “I’ve created a WHAT?!”

Image 2– Maybe… 

Confabulation is a memory disturbance that results in people reporting memories of events in their own personal history that actually never happened. Confabulations can take the form of small inaccuracies, such as simply filling in gaps in one’s memory with false details, or they can be large events, such as the horseback riding birthday party described earlier. Regardless of the magnitude of the memory, it is difficult to convince the person that their “memories” are false.

It is sometimes difficult to identify a confabulation because the person reporting the memory could seem very convincing and in touch with reality, but really the story is untrue (Shingaki et al., 2016). People who confabulate confidently describe imagined scenarios and present them as being completely true (Pederson, 2018). Another difficulty in identifying a confabulation is that a person’s autobiographical memory is generally quite difficult to study because if we did not experience the event with the person telling the story, then we can never really know if it actually happened or not. Even if we can’t thoroughly study someone’s episodic history, we can at least know that the person who experiences these confabulations is not purposefully deceiving you with inaccurate information. In fact, they wholeheartedly believe that what they are saying is the truth (Nall, 2017).
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How reliable was that awesome memory anyways? False memories and how they happen.

April 27th, 2018 3 comments

Have your friends ever enthusiastically asked you if you remembered that time they hit that home run in the bottom of the 9th or told that killer joke in class? Chances are once they’re done describing the event you can totally remember it as well and even remember how much you cheered or how you couldn’t stop laughing. The event feels so real to you now and you can’t believe how you didn’t immediately remember it before, but even though you both remember it so vividly that’s no guarantee that it happened the way you remember.

Do you remember the time you went to college? Do you really?

Hold on one second though, there’s no way your friend didn’t hit that home run to win your baseball game; you can clearly remember how happy you were and how the whole team stormed the plate to congratulate him. This is a great example of a false memory. A false memory is simply a memory that did not actually happen, or happened in a way very differently than remembered. Our memories are not nearly as a accurate as we make them out to be, and unfortunately it is far too easy to misremember an event, or remember something that never happened in this first place.

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Take off the rose-tinted glasses: Rosy retrospection and the fallibility of memory

April 26th, 2018 8 comments

If you’ve ever binge-watched The Office, you probably remember the moment in the series finale when Andy Bernard reflects on his days at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Thinking back on his past – on the friends he made and the fun times he had – he says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Is he right? At the moment he said it, was Andy living in the “good old days?” Why will he be able to think back on that moment as if it were the “good old days” if he can’t see it right now? Five years from now, will we be looking back on 2018 like it was the “good old days?” Cognitive psychology has an answer: yes.

Allow me to explain: we often tend to remember and recollect past events in a more favorable light than when they actually occur. This is called rosy retrospection – have you ever heard of the idiom “to see through rose-tinted glasses?” It refers to the tendency to see something in a positive light, often better than it actually is. This memory bias applies to all of us – and it explains why we often recall the past much more fondly than the present. More generally, rosy retrospection represents one example of the way memory is not as accurate or reliable as we would like to believe. Memory is surprisingly fallible.
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Here’s a Suggestion: Don’t Trust Your (False) Memory

April 26th, 2018 2 comments

I want you to think back to a childhood memory. Maybe it’s your third birthday party, the first day of kindergarten, or learning how to ride a bike. Can you remember any details? What you were wearing, who you were with, or how you felt? Now, how accurate do you think those details are? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard different versions of the same story about that day a thousands times by your parents, siblings, or friends. There may also be tons of pictures from the event that you look at from time to time, even now. So that means my memory of the event is pretty accurate, right? Interestingly enough, cognitive psychology tells us that the opposite is true–there are many things that can alter your memory (we’ll get to one of those things in just a bit). This can mean changing minor details, or even creating large portions of a memory that just didn’t happen. This extreme divergence from the truth is called a false memory.

That’s quite the false memory

A false memory is a recollection of an event that is either highly distorted or a complete (unintentional) fabrication. This isn’t about simply forgetting what happened. People with false memories believe that their misconstrued ideas of what occurred are accurate—and often with high confidence, too. So why do we have false memories? How does our brain allow us to have such confidence in the authenticity of events that never actually happened? Despite what you might be thinking, it is not the result of some mind control or hypnotism. So let’s look into how memory works to find out exactly what it is. Read more…

Are you SURE that happened or was that that just a (false) memory?

April 26th, 2018 3 comments

Imagine this. You’re in a convenience store and are getting ready to pay for some delicious Toll-House cookie dough (YUM). Suddenly, a man runs in wearing a mask and brandishing what appears to be a gun, so you decide to quickly hide near the front of the store behind some of the shelves. He demands for the cash in the register and the terrified workers quickly hand over the cash. You are so well hidden that the robber does not realize that there is anybody else in the store, and so as he is on his way out, he quickly removes his mask so that he can better see to escape. For a brief, fleeting couple of seconds, you get a perfect view of the man’s face. A few days later, the cops bring in some pictures of potential suspects to identify, and you are adamant that it was definitely a certain man in the pictures. However, the cops later realize that the man has an air-tight alibi from that day, which means that your identification of the criminal was incorrect. How could this happen?

This would’ve been a less scary robber to identify.

Well, thanks to cognitive psychology, we know that this misidentification probably happened due to the phenomenon called false memory. A false memory is when somebody has either a recollection of an event that did not actually occur, or when somebody remembers an event very differently from how it actually occurred. Essentially, no matter how sure you are that you remembered something correctly, there is a still a chance that you could be wrong. Crazy, right? So, next time you’re promising someone you are remembering some event correctly – just think and wonder how solid this promise actually is! Read more…

False memories in native and non-native English speakers

December 14th, 2017 1 comment

Memory – a simple word consisting of six letters. Memory – a term we frequently use to encompass a broad range of concepts. Memory – the thing that’s left after an event has long passed. But what happens when memory fails us? What happens when we fail to remember the past as accurately as we thought we would?

False memory

In cognitive research, false memories describe memories of events that did not take place or they happened quite differently from how they are remembered. The most common technique to induce false memories in a laboratory setting is a word learning paradigm called Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM), in which people study a list of words (such as bounce, throw, basket, bowling, and golf) that are all related to a common item (in this case, ball). When given a memory test people will often indicate that the non-presented common item (ball) was on the list with high confidence (Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995).

This is what researchers described as false memory: remembering something that did not happen.

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Pay Attention! Divided Attention Impairs Memory Processes

December 12th, 2017 1 comment

Have you ever been certain a friend said something when they’re certain that they didn’t? How about remembering it completely differently from how they actually said it? If you have, chances are you had a false memory! Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. False memories occur when we remember events that didn’t happen or remember them very differently from how they actually happened (Schacter, 1999). Although it may be unsettling to hear, false memories are very common and hard to detect. As far as you’re concerned, these don’t seem like false memories at all! False memories can be very similar in nature to true memories, which makes them all the more difficult to distinguish. Psychologists interested in memory often study false memories to learn more about the underlying processes that drive memory.

Cognitive psychologists have developed a few different methods of inducing false memories. Perhaps the most reliable and widely used is the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM; Roediger & McDermott, 1995) paradigm. In this paradigm, participants are presented with lists of words that are semantically associated, or related by meaning. For example, the words beach and ocean are semantically associated because people typically have strong connections between the ocean and the beach. After studying these words, participants take a memory test in which they have to decide whether they studied certain words or not. The DRM uses these types of associates to create false memories for words that are never presented, but are highly related to the words that are. One typical DRM list includes words such as banner, American, symbol, stars, and anthem, all of which converge upon the word flag. In this case, the word flag is called the critical lure. After studying this list of words, participants frequently remember seeing flag, even though it was never presented, because it is highly related to the words on the presented list.

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Eager To Please: Confabulation in healthy and amnesic individuals

April 17th, 2017 4 comments

If we can trust anyone, we should first trust ourselves, right? Not always, as cases of confabulation tell us. Imagine not being able to trust the accuracy of your own memory! And worse, not even knowing that you can’t trust it!

Individuals who confabulate genuinely believe that their memory is accurate, when in fact they are reporting or remembering false things. For example, an amnesic patient might tell a doctor an elaborate story about his weekend, which he says he spent in New York City exploring art museums. In reality, the patient was in the hospital the entire weekend, but has no doubt that the story he’s relaying to his doctor is true.

Confabulation is the unconscious process of producing false memories, and it can affect anyone. Those affected by confabulation range from amnesic patients to an average person participating in a psychological study. Obviously, the severity and consequences of the confabulation vary depending on the individual and the situation.
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Confusing or Making up Details to a Story? Blame it on Those All-Nighters.

November 24th, 2015 No comments

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Sure, we all know sleep is important for our health, but life always seems to intervene and these ideal seven to nine hours turn into four to five hours. Lacking sleep like this may make many of us feel tired and irritable, but we often fail to recognize how it may impact our memory for a day’s events. Sleep deprivation makes it tougher to remember things, such as witnessing a car accident or remembering a friend’s story. It is even possible for it to cause us to make up memories for events that never happened!

M_Id_401088_Kids_SleepResearchers Frenda, Patihis, Loftus, Lewis, and Fenn (2014) strived to investigate this and conducted a combination of experiments about sleep deprivation’s effect on false memories. False memories are memories of an event that either occurred differently from how you remember it or never occurred at all. These can be as extreme as believing you have a memory for visiting a city you never did or as mundane as construing a memory for a video you have never seen before. Making up memories like this can yield dire consequences, especially with eyewitness testimonies where an individual may be wrongfully charged because of a witness’ false memory. However, can a lack of sleep make this more likely to happen? Read more…

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Is Recalling Always Good?–The Possible Dangers of Recalling

November 23rd, 2014 3 comments


The act of recalling–we do it so casually and frequently without much thought; whether it’s recalling questions from an exam when you are discussing with friends questions you couldn’t figure out, or subconsciously remembering what the acquaintance was like while hearing rumors about him/her. Recalling might not be all so good–at least not as much as we might think it is. We don’t usually question the accuracy of the information we take in. However, it turns out to be that the accuracy of information becomes important, especially after the act of recalling (retrieving any information from memory). Through recalling an event, we enhance our ability to take in new information relevant to the event; if the new information is an accurate account of the event, our accuracy on the memory of the event is enhanced, but if the information is misleading or wrong, we take in the misleading information into our memory as well as we do of an accurate event. In the case of discussing an exam question with a friend, if the friend gives you inaccurate information, your possibly accurate prior memory could be “overwritten” with the wrong information your friend just provided. And in the case of hearing a rumor about an acquaintance, you could have a positive memory about the person before, but because of the rumor, which might be right or wrong, your memory could paint a new picture of him/her over the positive image that you used to have. Without being aware, we are making ourselves susceptible to taking in misinformation through just a simple act of recall. This could become very problematic at times; especially in eyewitness testimonies where their account makes a huge impact on what could be decided in court.

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