Posts Tagged ‘False Memory’

False memories in native and non-native English speakers

December 14th, 2017 No comments

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 No comments

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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Photographs and False Memory: Did I really go for a hot air balloon ride?

November 11th, 2014 1 comment

Have you ever looked at a picture from when you were younger and had absolutely no memory of it? Or have you ever had a memory from when you were young that you’re not sure actually happened? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you are completely normal and with this rest of us who sometimes have trouble recalling memories from our childhood and whether or not certain events actually took place. If these events never really happened, then why do we remember them?  Memories for things that did not actually happen are called false memories, more specifically implanted memories, and psychologist have been researching false memories for years. Many researchers looks at implanted memories, a phenomenon that refers to participants recalling specific details about “memories” that actually never took place. In implanted memory studies, researchers ask participants about specific events that took place during childhood, such as if they ever got lost at a park. Imagine being a participant in one of these studies. The first day that you come in, a researcher asks you about whether or not you ever got lost at the park when you were younger. You can’t remember ever being lost in the park, so you reply no. You continue to go in to see the researcher for multiple weeks, and every time the researcher asks you about being lost in the park when you were a kid. After a few weeks, you start to remember that actually, you were lost in the park when you were a kid and can remember specific details of being lost. This is how implanted memory studies take place, and by the end of a few weeks, researchers find that most participants start to recall specific details of events that never took place (Loftus & Pickrell, 1995). Crazy, isn’t it?

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Effects of Divided Attention on False Memories: Good News for Children, Not So for Adults

May 3rd, 2014 2 comments

Memory is an indispensable tool in our everyday lives, yet it is not perfect. Sometimes our own memory systems fail us, we remember things that we have never seen or recall events that have never happened. Such memories are called false memories, which have served as the topic of a large body of psychology research. Studies on false memories usually use the DRM paradigm (Desse, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995). This paradigm requires participants to study lists of words that are related in meaning to each other and to a critical lure (CL) that do not appear in the lists. After that, participants take a memory test. Results show that people tend to remember or recall the CL as frequently as they do the studied words, and each time the CL is recalled is considered a false memory. Read more…

Suggestibility’s Strong Influence on Behavior

November 27th, 2013 7 comments

How reliable are your memories?  Before I took Cognitive Psych, I never considered this question.  In fact, I assumed that most of what I remembered was true, even things from my early childhood.  Now that I know about suggestibility, I have begun to second-guess what I know about many of my past experiences.  Suggestibility occurs when, without realizing it, we include information from others in our memories.  This can lead to changes in memories, and sometimes the creation of non- experienced, or “false” memories.

There are two basic types of suggestions.  A personalized suggestion is one that indicates that something may have happened specifically to you in the past.  General suggestions, on the other hand, suggest that something happened to many people in the past.  For example, a personalized suggestion could involve your grandmother saying, “you always used to wear those green overalls when you came to visit me,” while a generalized suggestion may involve reading a magazine article that says green overalls were very popular among children in the late 1990s.  Research has shown that personalized suggestions create false autobiographical memories, which can affect behavior.  Memories are very important in guiding our behavior.  For example, if you remember a negative event associated with a certain place, you are more likely to avoid that place in the future.  Generalized suggestions guide behavior as well, but not through false memories.  In this case, a person may hear that something happened to others in the past and adjust their behavior to avoid experiencing it.  For example, if you learned that many people got sick from eating raw cookie dough, you might avoid sampling the batter when making cookies so as not to get sick yourself.

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Exonerate the Innocent!

November 26th, 2013 6 comments

Many innocent people are wrongly convicted of crimes every year, and many of these wrongful convictions are due to a mistaken identification during eyewitness testimony. In many criminal investigations, eyewitness identification can be a deciding factor in the case. The Innocence Project (2012) has exonerated 289 people in the U.S. based on DNA evidence. About 75% of those wrongfully imprisoned were people mistakenly identified in a line-up. (To learn more about the Innocence Project, click here.) Surprisingly, recent data have shown that approximately a third of witnesses for line-ups are children younger than 16 years old. The data also show that about a third of these children under 16 are likely to make a false identification of an innocent person as the culprit. It goes without saying that there can be very serious and severe outcomes for people as a result of false identification. For these reasons, research on eyewitness testimony has become more important and prominent in recent times.  Read more…

The Worst Lies Involve Raccoons

November 26th, 2013 1 comment

“A good memory is needed once we have lied.”

– Pierre Corneille, Le Menteur

angry raccoonOne of the most memorable moments of my childhood was saving my friends and siblings from a rabies-ridden raccoon.  We were all playing a game of kickball in the local park, when a gargantuan raccoon approached us.  With a crazed look in its eyes, the raccoon prowled towards us like a lion stalking its prey.  I knew it was trouble, but before I could call for my parents, it began to charge us.  As my friends turned to run away, I ran towards it.  Like two warriors meeting on a battlefield, we raced headlong towards each other.  Mere feet away the raccoon lunged for me, its fangs bared, ready to bite. As my foe tried to close its teeth around my calf, with only milliseconds to spare, my foot shot out and I delivered a ferocious kick to the raccoon’s chest. It roared as it thumped to the ground.  Knowing it was no match for the stoic twelve-year old that I was, the raccoon raced away.  My friends all crowded around me and celebrated my stunning triumph over the savage beast.  I told that story to most of my friends at college, and few believed me.  I knew it was true, so I reached out to a couple of friends who were there to have them back me up.  What they said shocked me.



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