Can our brain form false memories?

I keep working on to disseminate knowledge about neuroscience during these special times. Today I assisted the first “One World Cognitive Psychology Seminar”, a weekly online seminar in Zoom featuring a presentation by a stellar cognitive psychologist followed by a discussion open to anyone around the world. The seminar time is Tuesdays 17:15 – 18:45 Central European Summer Time (CEST).

The first session started today Tuesday, April 21, with Daniel M. Bernstein (Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia, Canada) who presented a talk on “The formation and consequences of false memories.”

Here are a few notes I took from the talk:

  • False memory formation seems to rely on fluency, familiarity, plausibility, autobiographical belief, and autobiographical memory.
  • Misleading information presented after experiencing an event makes people misremember details of that event (Loftus 1978). But what happens to memory then? There are two possible hypotheses that might answer this question:

    • Memory-impairment hypothesis (Loftus): post-event misinformation overwrites memory.

    • Poor encoding and retroactive interference (McCloskey & Zaragoza): details not encoded properly and Ps use post-event misinformation to fill the gap.

  • There exist different false memory formation techniques:
    • Imagination inflation (Garry 1996)
    • Revelation effect (Watkins & Peynircioglu 1990)
    • Fake photos (Wade 2002)
    • False autobiographical suggestion (Loftus & Pickrell 1995)
  • One of the consequences of false memory formation is seen in truthiness & law. For example, it is more likely to believe you witness something when there is a decorative, non-probative photo (Derksen submitted). See Innocence Project for more information about this point.

If you’re willing to join the next session, you can do it via this Zoom link or via the Zoom Meeting-ID: 601-991-156. Also, keep checking their continually growing speaker schedule on their webpage.


Feature image from Pexels – C0 license.

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