My younger sister is fourteen-years-old. One day we were talking about our friends and she started talking about how she missed her friend Abby and was wondering what she was up to. She began to tell me this story about her and Abby when they were younger. She said that back in our old neighborhood in Texas, her and Abby were playing in the backyard when they came across a snake. My sister went into great detail about what the snake looked like, how she felt, and even the dialogue that was exchanged between her and her friend. After reminiscing with her about other old friends, we decided to look them up on Facebook. I asked my sister what Abby’s last name was and she said that she couldn’t remember so we started looking at people with mutual friends. We could not find her anywhere. We both went downstairs with our laptops to ask my mom if she could remember Abby’s last name. She was immediately confused. My mother then began to inform us that Abby was my sister’s imaginary friend when she was around three years old and that she would always talk to adults about the fun things that they did together. Abby was never a real person. She was a figment of my sister’s imagination and through story-telling, Abby was registered in my sister’s mind as a real memory. This is a classic case of the false memory phenomenon. This is when through stories, usually from other people, become memories in your mind of an event that did not actually happen. Many times, when a person says that he or she can remember something that happened when they were under the age of three, they are using false memories. The event could have happened. However, his or her memories are not from the event, rather they are from pictures, stories, and jokes about the event that make them feel like they remember it actually happening.
A false memory is a memory that you think is real, but actually there is nothing real about the memory. These can be created by someone else telling you a story that may or may not have actually happened to you in the past but that you do not actually remember. After hearing this story, your brain creates a “memory” of the event. This isn’t actually a memory that you had, someone else put it their.
This reminds me of my sister. Constantly when we were little, she would tell me crazy stories of things that happened to us that I knew had never happened. Since she did this all the time and I knew these things hadn’t actually happened, I didn’t create a false memory of them, but my sister may have created a false memory of these things happening.
After we had a lecture about false memories in our Psych 100 class I was very intrigued. When my mom called me later that day I felt the need to tell her all about it. She was also very interested in false memories. She decided that later that night she would do an experiment on my brother pertaining to false memories. That night my mom started up a conversation about memories with my brother. They talked about memories that revolved around him and other memories that were focused on other family members for awhile. All of the memories they talked about actually did happen and my brother, who is 16, remembered most of them and their details.
Then after reviewing memories my brother was aware of, my mom brought up a memory that, in reality, happened to me but changed the storyline and made my brother the main character. It was a story about how I got lost in an amusement park when I was eight years old. My brother was there when i got lost but he was only five. When my mom began the story she asked my brother if he remembered being lost at Sesame Place. He said he didn’t recall the situation and then asked her to remind him of the story. My mom went into detail about the events that really happened but replaced me with my brother. By the end of the story my brother started remembering the event and agreed with my mom, that it did happen to him and that he did remember after all. He truthfully believed that he was the one who got lost. He even said he remembered going up to an employee with bright red hair and asking them where he could find my mom. He was throwing in his own details to the memory even though they weren’t true. He was pulling them from experiences of his own and other memories he had.
Her test had worked. My mom had convinced my brother that he was the one who had gotten lost in Sesame Place instead of me. It was a simple and insignificant memory which probably made it easier for her to convince him. She never told him that it wasn’t true and I don’t think she plans to. This story just goes to show that no matter how good of a memory we think we may have, outside forces or events can always influence it.