Creating false memories, believing an event occurred when it did not, is an everyday occurrence not a phenomenon strictly associated with the development of multiple personalities (usually diagnosed as Dissociative Identity Disorder) which is based on the theory that buried memories of childhood sexual abuse is behind the disorder.
False memories are not exclusive to psychotherapists who may unwittingly mold their patient’s memories to fit their own view of the world rather than sticking with facts of their patient’s lives. In this scenario, patients are encouraged to recall memories of childhood sexual abuse that may, or may not, be real. False recall of abuse has demonstrated it can cause the incarceration of individuals wrongly accused of events that did not occur. Eyewitness testimony in criminal cases are ripe with mis-identification of the perpetrator.
Science continues to demonstrate that human memory is fluid and changes with time unlike the long debunked theory that every event in our lives is recorded like a videotape that sits on a shelf deep in our mind ready to be replayed in its pristine form. Research shows that human memory simply doesn’t work that way.
False memories are not nefarious, or evil, or nonexistent. They are a reality of our lives and we unknowingly manipulate our memories to fit our view of ourselves and the world around us – often with no awareness that we are doing so.
Below are excerpts from the article offering insight into why we unknowingly manipulate our memories. Follow the link to this article if you are interested in reading comments. There are also resources if you want to read more about how false memories are formed.
Why does the human brain create false memories?
By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News
Human memory constantly adapts and moulds itself to fit the world. Now an art project hopes to highlight just how fallible our recollections are.
All of us generate false memories and artist AR Hopwood has been “collecting” them.
For the past year he has asked the public to submit anecdotes of fake recollections which he turns into artistic representations.
They have ranged from the belief of eating a live mouse to a memory of being able to fly as a child.
Kimberley Wade at the University of Warwick, UK says, “I’ve been studying memory for more than a decade, and I still find it incredible that our imagination can trick us into thinking we’ve done something we’ve never really done and lead us to create such compelling, illusory memories.The reason our memories are so malleable,” she explains, “is because there is simply too much information to take in.”
Wade found that “when we remember an event, what our memory ultimately does is fills in those gaps by thinking about what we know about the world.”
BBC News Science & Environment
Related articles & books:
Scientific American: Scientists Plant False Memories in Mice
TED Talks (18 min video) Elizabeth Loftus: The fiction of memory
False Memory Syndrome Foundation
Wired.com Ads implant false memories
50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior, by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein
Try to Remember: Psychiatry’s Clash over Meaning, memory, and mind by Paul McHugh
Eyewitness Testimony by Elizabeth Loftus
The Myth of Repressed Memory by Elizabeth Loftus
Victims of Memory by Mark Pendergrast
The Seven Sins of Memory: How the mind forgets and remembers, by Daniel L. Schacter