LNews can be faked, so can memory. A study by the University of Warwick in the UK found that although they had never experienced it, half of the people would believe it and regard false memories as real experiences if they were told they had done something after several “reviews” in their minds. Why can’t you trust your own brain, not Google or Facebook?
The study was led by Professor Kimberley Wade, who invited 400 adults to experiment, and instilled them with a completely fictitious but relatively harmless memory, such as sitting in a hot balloon in childhood, playing tricks on teachers or making a fool of relatives at their wedding, and imagined that this had happened. The results showed that about 30% of the participants seemed to “remember” the incident, and even could tell the story and details, while 23% showed that they accepted the fabricated experience, which was true to some extent.
The study, published in the journal Memory, also pointed out that those false memories were not only artificially implanted, but also participants added extraneous details to the “facts” they were told. “When their narration changes from ‘I don’t remember…’ to ‘I remember now…’, they will definitely say some additional imagination or make detailed explanations beyond the established plot. Therefore, about one third of them show that they have false memories, and there are signs that more than half of them regard that imaginary thing as having happened.”
However, the famous saying “there is a picture and a truth” is counterproductive in this experiment. The photos taken when participants were shown claiming to ride in a balloon did not improve the persuasiveness of “past events”, but would reduce their chances of accepting and building false memories. The researchers believe that when participants try to “recall” whether there was such a thing, these photos will restrain their imagination, thus hindering the formation of memory.
This study found that most people are prone to develop wrong beliefs, which is very important. Because we have learned from other studies that distorted beliefs can affect people’s behavior, intentions and attitudes. The research points out the ambiguous characteristics of human memory, which also allows scientists to further understand how memory is formed and how it can be manipulated. But it also cast doubt on the credibility of some activities that rely heavily on human memory, such as court testimony and psychotherapy.
“It may be quite difficult to objectively determine whether a person is recalling the past or expressing some knowledge, belief or psychological state derived from other experiences.” Several authors of the study concluded: “Even in a strictly controlled laboratory environment, it is difficult for memory researchers to define and observe memory. In this case, how can we expect therapists, forensic forensics, medical staff, human resources personnel or jurists to do better in this task?”