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False Memory Syndrome

 

Explanations > Theories > False Memory Syndrome

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

We can have quite vivid memories of past experiences which are actually false but which we absolutely believe to be true.

This can be caused by such as police questioning or helpful psychotherapists. When we are sufficiently motivated, we can actually change what we remember.

People are better at creating false memories when asked to imagine the supposed event in detail, and if they are also good imagers.

We can also easily create a false memory when two things are similar. For example we may be sure a specific person was at an event when actually it was someone else who looked like them.

False memory can appear when we want something to have happened just because it is pleasant to recall.

This is caused by what is sometimes called 'imagination inflation'.

Example

In a famous 1988 case, Paul Ingram was accused by his daughters of having committed sexual abuse, satanic rituals and even murder (they suddenly remembered these events after many years). Even he eventually became convinced that he must have committed these crimes and then somehow repressed the memories. He was given a long prison sentence. Many believe that he is innocent and a victim of false memory syndrome.

So what?

Using it

If you pressurize someone, they may suddenly 'recall' something that reduces that pressure, either giving you what you want or giving them a way out. Beware of such sudden memories.

Defending

Do not depend on your memory to be completely accurate (or even any way accurate), especially if you want to believe a memory and even more especially if someone else wants to believe the memory and they are pressing you to recall it.

See also

Consistency Theory, Imagined Memory, Interrogation

References

Kilhstrom (1996, 1997)

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