The Most Shocking Fact About False Memories

How false memories from childhood could be implanted.

How false memories from childhood could be implanted.

Fifty per cent of people are prone to believing false memories, research finds.

When totally fictitious (but plausible) events are suggested, around 50% of people then believe they have experienced them.

Examples included taking a hot air balloon ride as a child or causing havoc at a wedding when a child.

The conclusion comes from many ‘memory implantation’ studies that have been carried out over the years.

Typically, in the studies, people are asked to repeatedly imagine the fake events occurring.

They are then tested much later, once the memory has had a chance to settle in.

The result is that people find it very difficult to separate real events from false events.

Psychologists found that of the 50 percent who are susceptible:

  • 30 percent of people remember fake events suggested to them. They will even go so far as to invent further details about the event that did not happen to them
  • 23 percent showed some signs they remembered the fake events.

Dr Kimberley Wade, an author of the study, said:

“We know that many factors affect the creation of false beliefs and memories — such as asking a person to repeatedly imagine a fake event or to view photos to “jog” their memory.

But we don’t fully understand how all these factors interact.

Large-scale studies like our mega-analysis move us a little bit closer.

The finding that a large portion of people are prone to developing false beliefs is important.

We know from other research that distorted beliefs can influence people’s behaviours, intentions and attitudes.”

The study was published in the journal of Memory (Scoboria et al., 2016).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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