Tag Archives: false memory

False Flippin’ Memories

For this post, I will be looking back to lesson nine of the course to write about the misinformation effect. A couple of months ago, I was in a vehicle crash after swerving to keep from hitting a dog. Immediately after the crash, I thought that I could vividly recall exactly what took place during the crash. I could even recall the sensations of falling and of being upside-down while my vehicle was flipping, which I found strange since most people claim to remember very little about accidents or traumatic events after they occur. Despite my vivid memories of the crash, my memory of events immediately following the crash have become quite distorted. The accounts of the first responders and others who arrived at the scene eventually led to misinformation and false memories.

Soon after my crash, I was sitting on a front porch belonging to the family whose yard I had flipped into. While somewhat disoriented and bleeding from my head, I gave my account of the crash as well as I could to the first police officer on the scene. After telling the officer that I had to crawl out of the front windshield due to my truck lying on its side, he told me that I was remembering wrong and that my truck had landed on all four tires after flipping. This came as a shock because I was sure that I remembered crawling out of the windshield and standing up to see my truck lying on its side. I was initially convinced that the officer was incorrect, but my brother soon confirmed his story. By brother was one of the first people on the scene and told me that my truck was upright when he arrived and that the tow truck had not yet approached my truck. After hearing the accounts of the others involved, my memory of events after the crash began to change. I could no longer picture myself crawling out of the windshield and began to form a memory of exiting through the door.

According to an article written on the misinformation effect, discussing an event with other witnesses can conflict with what actually happened. Listening to the different accounts of the event can distort memories, and repeated exposure to conflicting or inaccurate events can even cause one to reshape his or her own memories (Cherry, 2015). This was proven in my case. The more and more I heard of what everyone else had concluded about the way I exited my vehicle, the more vividly I could recall their accounts, and I could no longer remember crawling out of the windshield despite how vivid the original memory had been. I even formed a visual memory of opening the door of my truck and stepping out onto the ground.

A few weeks ago, my mother ran into one of the firemen who had been among the first responders, and she asked him about my crash. He recalled that when he arrived, my truck was lying on its side and the tow truck was lifting it back to its upright position. This took place before my brother or the police officer had arrived. After spending so much time remembering an inaccurate account due to misinformation, my memory of what happened is still false, despite learning the truth. This case displays the power that misinformation has on our memories, and it proves that enough exposure to false accounts can even lead to forming vivid memories of things that never actually took place.



Cherry, K. (2015). What is the misinformation effect? Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/memory/fl/What-Is-the-Misinformation-Effect.htm

Studies in False Memories is changing the criminal justice system

The study of False Memories is changing the criminal justice system. This new research shows how innocent adult participants were convinced and confessed to committing crimes as serious as assault with a weapon. The percentages were high, 71% developed a false memory of the crime, 50% of those false memories were elaborate in detail and their exact dealings with the police. This is big news by recognizing the procedures that generate these false memories allows the development of new procedures that support putting only criminals away.

Some of the first studies on false memories were done by Ira Hyman and coworkers in 1995. This study was done with college students and tested their memory of childhood events. This study showed that 20% recalled some detail of this false memory. This ability to create false memories is made stronger by certain factors. One of these factors is Priming, as seen in Stephen Lindsay’s experiment in 2004 showing participants an early childhood photo doubled the false memory recall.

The participants of the study done at the University of British Columbia study were 60 students that had never been involved in any of the crimes designated as a target for false memory. Each of these students participated in three 40-minute interviews that were a week apart. Priming starts in the first interview where the researcher told the student about two events experienced as a teen and only 1 of the 2 were true. The incidents were either related to crime and contact with police or emotional and personal in nature. The false event also included details that were taken from a true experience.

In the 2nd and 3rd interviews researchers continued to asks the participants to recall details of the event. When the memories seemed difficult to produce the researchers used statements such as “It is normal not to remember traumatic experiences” and included statements such as “Your parents have informed us that you did the crime” By triggering an emotional response the participants were able to take on the memory as their own and give details for an experience that never happened. Here we see Errors Due to Suggestion that is heighten because of priming and emotion. We also see Errors Due to Familiarity, by including familiar pieces of true early events in their lives.

This research from the University of British Columbia clearly shows that Police interrogation techniques can create false memories and opens the door for wrong fully convicted criminals to be vindicated. This creates a space for change in a system that drastically can alter someone’s life. By showing that certain techniques are bad is the first step in preventing them from happening.

West, R. (2015, November 19). Police interrogation tactics can plant false memories, UBC study finds – British Columbia – CBC News. Retrieved November 22, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-study-finds-police-interrogation-techniques-can-create-false-memories-1.3326896

Goldstein, E. (2011). Everyday Memory and Memory Errors. In Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed., pp. 225-233). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Shaw, J., & Porter, S. (2015). Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime. Psychological Science, 291-301. Retrieved November 22, 2015, from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/26/3/291.full.pdf