Psychologists say adults can adopt fake memories as real

SEATTLE — Given a few bogus details and a little prodding, about a quarter of adults can be convinced they remember childhood adventures that never happened.

The experiment is one of a series of exercises psychologists have developed that can plant false memories in the brain. Once they take root, these thoughts often become as real as genuine ones–indeed, perhaps even more so.

“Over time, people may forget things that did happen and rememher things that didn’t,” said Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University in St. Louis.

Roediger and other psychologists described their memory experiments Saturday at a meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.

In one experiment, Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington in Seattle ‘asked parents to list some incidents in their adult children’s pasts. Then she told the children she wanted to compare their memories with the parents’.

She walked them through a series of real incidents and then threw in a fake one: As a young child, they had been lost in a shopping mall and cried until an elderly person found them and reunited them with their parents.

With a little gentle coaxing, Loftus said, about one-quarter of study subjects agree this happened. Some even go on to provide new details.

In another experiment, volunteers are asked to look over a list of possible childhood events, such as breaking a window with their hand, and rate on a scale of 1 to 8 their certainty of whether they happened.

Two weeks later, they are asked to spend one minute creating mental images of some of the events. After imagining breaking the window, 24% became more certain it had occurred.

Los Angeles Times
Sunday, February 16, 1997
page A30
From Associated Press

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