A false memory is an invented or manipulated recollection of an incidence. Individuals typically perceive memory as something such as a video recorder, precisely recording and retelling everything that occurs with absolute accuracy and lucidity. In an actual sense, memory is susceptible to fallacy. It is common to believe that memory is accurate; however, that accuracy is not a guarantee. Instances of this false memory can span from the mundane occurrences like falsely claiming that one had left the keys in the kitchen to weighty issues like incorrectly recalling memories of an accident one saw.
While it is rife to experience memory failures occasionally, false memories are distinct meaning that they indicate a different memory of something that does not exist, which is different from forgetting or confusing the particulars of things that happened. It is about recalling things that never occurred. This paper seeks to unravel the psychological explanation behind false memories and how illusory recollections can be avoided or managed.
Causes of False Memory
Individuals with strong memories also have inaccurate memories by fabricating things unconsciously and can fabricate things unconsciously. Memory professional Elizabeth Loftus undertook a popular experiment in 1994 and during the investigation; she ensured that the memory of 25 percent of the volunteers was altered by showing them a picture suggesting that as children they visited a plaza (Liu, Ramirez, & Tonegawa, 2014). In another research conducted in 2002, 50 percent of the participants were convinced that they had an experience in a hot air balloon as children by displaying a manipulated picture as proof (Shaw, 2018).
False memory is a function of several variables including misrepresentation or misattribution of the first origin of the material. Prevailing knowledge and other recollections can also obstruct the creation of a new memory, causing the recalling of an incidence to be skewed or completely incorrect. It is possible to trigger a false memory through insinuations (Tat et al., 2016). Memories can become more definite and clear as time progresses. With time, memories can be inaccurate and start to transform. In other incidences, the first memory may be distorted to accommodate different information or experiences.
There are times when we see stuff that is not present and miss to see the actual things that are noticeable. Most of the time false memories build because the insight is not interpreted properly. For instance, it is possible for a witness not to have a clear memory of what happened in an accident. Recalling the episodes that took place can be a daunting task or even impractical because they did not observe all that occurred. Consequently, the individual's intellect might fill in the blanks by creating things that did not happen.
Sometimes, antecedent memories and encounters compete with different knowledge. In other cases, the antecedent memories will obstruct or modify our new memories, and in other incidences, new insight can make it problematic to recount prior retained information. As our minds gather the prior materials together, there are missing details in our memory. The gaps are often filled in with the beliefs or anticipations that one may have towards a particular subject. For instance, a person may unequivocally recount where he or she was and the task at hand during the 9/11 attack (Warren et al., 2014). While one may feel like the recollections of the occurrence are correct, there is a compelling likelihood that the memories may have been affected by the media reports and news. The introduced insight might compete with the present memories of the incident or fill in the blank spaces.
Emotions can greatly skew the memory. Strong emotions can turn an encounter to be more memorable, but other times they can result in incorrect and altered memories. Studies have indicated that humans are more likely to recount incidence linked to strong emotions, but the descriptions of such recollections are usually inaccurate. Narrating significant incidences can also result in inaccurate belief in the veracity of the memory (Tat et al., 2016).
Research conducted in 2008 revealed that negative emotions specifically were more likely to result in the creation of manipulated memories (Shaw, 2018). Other researches postulate that the inaccurate memory impact has a weak correlation with negative emotions and strong correlation with arousal degrees. Research conducted in 2007 established that false recollections were considerably more regular during times of high enthusiasm than during times of low enthusiasm, irrespective of the nature of the mood.
Other times, correct information is muddled with inaccurate information, which then alters our recounts for incidences. Loftus explores inaccurate memories since the 1970s, and her analysis unveils the acute implications that misinformation can have on recollection (Kaplan et al., 2016). In her research, the volunteers were shown pictures of a road accident. The interviewers tried to alter the memories of the participants by incorporating additional details in the pictures. The volunteers were later questioned about the details of the accident after manipulation of the pictures. The ones that had been swayed by the misleading pieces were more likely to retell inaccurate memories of the incidence. The dire potential effect of the misinformation effect is manifested in the criminal justice section, where inaccuracy grants a suspect either life or death.
Misattribution involves joining aspects of separate events into one cohesive tale, inaccurately recounting the source of one information or even remembering imagined incidences from childhood and being convinced that they are true (Kaplan et al., 2016). For instance, while discussing details of the last vacation that one took, one might erroneously relate an event that occurred on vacation that one took some years back.
When creating a memory, people do not always concentrate on the small particulars and would rather recount a general impression of what occurred. Fuzzy-trace model posits that people sometimes make rigorous traces of incidence and in other cases make only significant traces (Wilson et al., 2015). Rigorous traces are formed based on the actual events as they happen while significant traces are focused on our understandings of incidences. Sometimes the way people comprehend information does not precisely signify what occurred. These prejudices of events can result in illusory memories of the initial events.
The Possible Consequences of False Memories
While everybody has encountered a situation where one has forgotten a critical part of the information, most miss appreciating the prevalence of false memory. People are outstandingly vulnerable to insinuations, which can build memories of incidences and things that are non-existent.
More often than not, these false memories are immaterial such as thinking that one had carried a pen when in reality they had not. In other circumstances, false memories can have dire ramifications. Studies have indicated that false memories are largely to blame for false convictions, normally through the wrongful identification of a criminal or illusory recollection during profiling (Tat et al., 2016).
Preventing or Managing False Memory
Deterring illusory recollection is possible. Keeping a diary could go a long way towards having an accurate recitation of what happened. Sometimes that some of the false memories are limited to the little details of a circumstance (Benmergui, McKelvie, & Standing, 2017). For instance, writing the date to an event will make it easy to recall it. Keeping a diary enables one to revisit and confirm the precision of the memory, therefore rectifying the annoying incorrect recollection. It is extremely imperative that the details written in the diary or journal are lucid and accurate so that there is accurate documentation of what occurred.
In general, inaccurate recounts are challenging to rectify, lingering despite warnings and further research opportunities. Scholars argue that mistakes must first be recognized to be rectified. Two tests indicated that illusory memories were almost exterminated when conditions enabled analysis between participants' mistakes and corrective feedback such as immediate trial-by-trial responses that encouraged direct comparisons between feedback and accurate information (Benmergui, McKelvie, & Standing, 2017). However, information that there was a mistake was inadequate, unless the response message also incorporated the correct response, the rate of incorrect recollect stayed relatively constant. On the other extreme, there is nothing unique about rectifying incorrect recounts: simply naming a mistake as "inaccurate" is also inadequate for rectifying other memory mistakes, including misinterpretations and misremembered truths. However, people may not detect their mistakes unless the correction conditions particularly highlight them. Humans usually make mistakes during learning or when remembering. Upon obtaining responses, they are skilled at rectifying those errors.
Although false memories cannot be eliminated, there are simple practices that people can undertake to lessen instances of false memory. Avoid confounding memories with facts. Always qualify your claims if there are no other sources of information apart from memory. Stop thinking that particular memory is different. It is easy to think that specific, vivid memories are naturally true and immune to alteration, but it is false. Important recollections may be remembered more frequently than mundane memories, and every one of them may be unique every time they are retold. Always trust but verify (Benmergui, McKelvie & Standing, 2017). It is good practice to fact-check the recounts before disseminating a recollection whose validity is paramount. Revisit the primary sources to confirm the accuracy of the memory. Using the personal archives is important. Visit the information retained in your smartphone, and cloud accounts to verify your memories. The internet technology provides us with a more efficient, fast and secure way to document our ideas and activities (Zhang, Gross & Hayne, 2017). It is crucial to record events as they occur to create strong memories. Take minutes during meetings and reach out to other participants to corroborate their accuracy. Note down your individual opinion and observations. Often people will believe that they will remember important information, but usually, memories fade quicker than we admit. Lastly, using imagery is an efficient method to enhance memory and diminish particular kinds of false memory. However, people should develop detailed images with distinct attributes to help thwart the acceptance of illusory recollection on recognition based examinations such as multiple-choice evaluations or true/false, where appeals and potential false memories inveigle one.
Therefore, take some time on every report, speech or article memorable. Exercising these practices in a hurry results in cutting corners, and depending solely on recollection can be equated to cutting corners.
Benmergui, S. R., McKelvie, S. J., & Standing, L. G. (2017). Beneficial Effect of Pictures on False Memory in the DRMRS Procedure. Current Psychology, 36(1), 136-146.
Kaplan, R. L., Van Damme, I., Levine, L. J., & Loftus, E. F. (2016). Emotion and False Memory. Emotion Review, 8(1), 8-13.
Liu, X., Ramirez, S., & Tonegawa, S. (2014). The Inception of False Memory by Optogenetic Manipulation of a Hippocampal Memory Engram. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 369(1633), 20130142.
Shaw, J. (2018). How can Researchers Tell Whether Someone has a False Memory? Coding Strategies in Autobiographical False-Memory Research: A Reply to Wa...
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