Think of one of your prominent childhood memories. Where were you? What was happening? Who were you with? Chances are, you had no trouble describing one of your memories. But are you sure your memory is accurate? Occasionally, false memories can be created in a person’s mind.
People can sometimes be forced to believe something happened even when the event never occurred. For example, in a study performed at Williams College, several people were accused of breaking a computer by hitting the wrong button, even though in actuality they had done nothing wrong. The unknowing participants at first denied the charge, but when a witness was brought forth, many participants confessed to the crime. Some even created details describing the situation that had never occurred. These people formed false memories.
How are false memories created? Often, social demands can force a person to believe a memory. When someone is told by a family member that an event occurred in their past, they are likely to believe it, and may expand the event within their mind. If someone claims to have witnessed an event, others may believe the event occurred, even if it never really did. Also, a person may be told to imagine a past event in their mind, and so they may create the details by themselves. Often, false memories can be formed by combining an actual event with false details that were suggested by others.
One kind of false memory is called an impossible memory. Impossible memories are memories created in the first year of life. However, memories cannot truly be created during this first year, because the brain is not yet developed enough to store memories. People can be convinced to believe that they have memories simply by being guided toward these memories. Psychologists can have a person imagine something from their past, and the person will come to believe that is an actual memory. In a study performed at Carleton University, 95 percent of participants in a guided memory group reported memories from their first year of life.
One may wonder what the consequences are when false memories are formed. Psychotherapist or law enforcement officers could create a memory that never actually happened through their interrogation. Someone may confess to a crime that they never actually committed. Through the power of suggestion, a person may come to believe an event occurred, when in actuality it never did. This could cause a person to get in trouble for something that never actually happened at all. They will be presumed guilty for a crime in which they actually were innocent.
I believe that false memories are created often. I think that people imagine things that never really happened, or exaggerate things that did happen, and come to believe them as reality. It seems to be a simple enough process. We base a lot of our childhood memories on the words of others. It wouldn’t be difficult for them to place false memories in our minds. The creation of false memories could be dangerous in certain situations. If the memory is emotional distressing, or could create false guilt, I think it would be damaging. Also, any false memory gives you a skewed version of reality. To prevent psychotherapists and law enforcement officers from creating false memories, we could require them to focus more on reality, and less on imagination. If people don’t imagine hypothetical situations or details of events, they may be less likely to create false memories.
False memories are created through a simple process, but they can have complex effects on a person’s life. False memories can distort a person’s view of reality. This field of psychology is still not completely researched, but people are constantly searching for more information. False memories are a very intriguing topic, and should be studied carefully.