Memory is an object in your mind that you always expect to live out your life with. Memory is the stepping stone to becoming the person you will be upon growing up, shaping your thoughts and values all the way into adulthood. With such an important role in the lives of everyone, how can memory possibly be so defunct? Easily. In the first example, a group of Disneyland attendees were given simple surveys and were told to analyze ads about Disneyland and what happened there. Separated into four groups, these groups of people were all put into different scenarios to evaluate how distorted their memory became. The experiment was simple: One group was placed in a room with no props, and the ad they witnessed mentioned no cartoon characters or anything out of the ordinary. The second group was given a similar ad, but a cartoon cutout of Bugs Bunny was put in the room with them. No other mention of Bugs Bunny was present. The third group had something vastly different. The third group read an ad for Disneyland, in which the ad actually spoke of Bugs Bunny. The fourth group is a kind of mix between the second and third. The ad given to the fourth group mentioned Bugs Bunny, but also, there was a cutout of Bugs in the room with them. The results were shocking. 30% of the people in groups two and three said they remembered seeing Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. 40% of the people in the last group said the same thing. The scientist there explained it best, “‘Remember’ means the people actually recall meeting and shaking hands with Bugs” (Pickrell). The funny thing about this is, Bugs Bunny has never been at Disneyland. Pickrell also goes on to say about memory distortion, “You may not have had a great experience the last time you visited Disneyland or McDonald’s, but the ads may inadvertently be creating the impression that they had a wonderful time and leaving viewers with that memory” (Pickrell).
Misinformation has been a tool of rumor for most of the generations. Misinformation was never thought to be able to replace ones’ own memories or at all distort them, but merely misinform those who were not there. In this next example, many are not so sure about misinformation anymore. This source speaks of psychiatrists and how they can affect the memories of others. In one such case, a nurse’s aide visited a psychiatrist to get help to cope with her reaction to a horrible experience by her daughter. The psychiatrist was using hypnosis in hopes of figuring out why she reacted the way she did to her daughter. Abusive pasts lend a hand in abusive tendencies, so the therapist attempted to usurp any abusive tendencies in the woman’s past. As a result, an influx of memories and the like detailing the nurse’s aide as being involved in a plethora of abusive acts. These included, “having been in a satanic cult, of eating babies, of being raped, of having sex with animals and of being forced to watch the murder of her eight-year-old friend. She came to believe that she had more than 120 personalities-children, adults, angels and even a duck-all because, Cool was told, she had experienced severe childhood sexual and physical abuse” (Loftus). In this example, simply being told you have bad memories caused false ones to arise. Loftus elaborates further and uses more examples, including a woman “remembering” that her clergyman father raped her and impregnated her twice. Loftus elaborates further, asking just how we can tell memories apart anymore. She says that “without corroboration”, it would be extremely difficult to decide between what a false memory is, and what a true one is. She mentions that it has been shown that under certain conditions, fake memories can be installed in people, even when contradictory to physical evidence (Loftus). Loftus’s research then delves into the misinformation effect, on which was sprinkled about earlier. The misinformation effect is simply seeing/hearing something, and the memory of that being influenced by outside, misinformation. Elizabeth Loftus, the writer of this source, is one of the primary advocates behind this effect. Her most popular study is titled “Reconstruction of automobile destruction”. In this study, Loftus showed a group of students seven clips of automobile accidents. Upon viewing them, the students were instructed to write reports and were asked questions about the clips of accidents. The primary question was related to the speed of the car, but there was a twist. The suffix of the question had alternating verbs. For example, one question was “About how fast were the cars going when they collided with each other?”, and a second question was “About how fast — when they smashed into each other?” Loftus’s study showed that depending on the intensity of the verb, the car would move faster and faster in memory depending on how intense the verb was (i.e. The verb was “smashed”, and the car went 40.8 miles per hour). This study was a gateway into the realm of misinformation, or memory bias.
“The basic idea is that memories do not exist in isolation but rather in a world of other memories that can interfere with one another” (Greene, 1992). This idea is the basic phenomenon known as interference theory. In the book Memory Distortion: How Mind, Brains and Societies Reconstruct the Past we are given a surplus of information regarding distorted and misinformed memories. Interference theory is comprised of two distinct parts: retroactive interference and proactive interference. Retroactive interference is when a new memory somehow distorts or replaces a long-term memory. For example, if one were to move around different houses a lot and have many different memories in different houses, a memory in a house closer to the current date might influence one from an earlier time. If a child were playing on a trampoline just a few months ago, that memory might interfere with the dinner he had at a different house a year before. The other aspect of proactive memory works the opposite. In the same example, the child might not remember being on the trampoline, he might believe he had dinner at that house instead. A third, subtopic of interference is output interference. That is when retrieving information conflicts with the retrieval of information. For example, if someone wanted to remember what happened to him on one day, but the act of trying to remember shuns the memory away (Sternberg). Another topic the book touches on is the idea of consolidation. In interference theories, consolidation “refers to the idea that memory is not fixed at the time of learning but continues to change and be reorganized as time passes” (Schacter 198). After years of study, the concept behind this shows that the findings are near concrete. This is incredible. Years and years after learning something, our memory breaks down and reorganizes itself. There is no misinformation or psychoanalysis needed. The simple factor of age breaks down and distorts our memory as good as any other memory disruption method. In the same text, consolidation is exemplified with references to the medial temporal lobe memory system. The book finds that this system is only a temporary system, only working for the limited time that we experience something. After that, memory is subject to disruption and distortion. Incredible!
For years now memory recollection has been used for many things. A usurped memory in a psychiatrist has helped people live a better life. A memory of an incident has put people away to justice. However, the question remains: Just how accurate is your memory? Hearing the slightest misinformation or simply aging at all are both means by which memory distorts itself. Misinformation and aging are two very fundamental principles, in that they are everywhere around us constantly. With this constant bombardment of memory disrupting particles, how can anyone be sure what they remember, is what actually happened? Quite simply, one may never know. How is it, then, that lawyers and other authority figures can bombard us with details that they think we might know? This process in itself is misinformation. How can one be criminalized accurately?
Elizabeth Loftus, “Creating False Memories.” UW Faculty Web Server.
Jacquie Pickrell and Elizabeth Loftus, Joel Schwarz, “False Memories Easily Created, Researchers Discover.” All Science News In One Place – UniSci.
Daniel L Schacter, Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past.
Robert J Sternberg, Cognitive psychology.