False Memories Research Paper

False memories are defined as distorted recollections of an event or events which never occurred, and may be due to the incorporation of new information. The occurrence of false memories depends on different factors such as emotion, visual stimuli, aging, and even a person’s seemingly harmless suggestions. How can false memories be reduced in childhood or adulthood? Can we actually use photographs to minimize false memories, or can emotions have an impact on our likelihood of retaining false memories despite treatment?

This subject has been explored in various research studies and cases, including the studies done on the effect of photographs or negative emotions on a person’s memory. One study investigated the effect of photographs on children’s memories for events that may or may not have happened. Over three interviews, 10-year-old participants were shown three true photos and one false photo of a hot air balloon. Half the children saw a “doctored” photo of themselves and other family members in the hot air balloon (False/present group), while the remaining half (False/absent group) saw only the hot air balloon (Strange et al. 008).

At each interview, the children reported what they could remember about each event, their confidence that the events really happened and how much they could remember. Based on the results, children who saw a picture of themselves in the balloon developed more false memories than those who saw only the balloon, but when the children in either condition developed false memories, they were equally confident that the event was real (Strange et al. 2008). In this study, their findings highlight the potential problem with the use of photographs as tools in therapy especially for children.

The researchers implied that, in the absence of any accompanying narrative, photos were just as effective at inducing false memories (Strange et al. 2008). Based on the data collected by their experiments, they also found that the children were able to express their confidence equally whether or not the event was true or false, to adults serving as raters, who could not even detect any difference between the quality of both children’s true and false event (Strange et al. 2008).

The study introduced an argument against using photographs in reducing false memories, for they proposed that children could actually be succumbed to the idea that, if suggested, they had a traumatic memory and that even adults would not be able to tell that it is due to false recall. A more current study introduced findings that should inspire future research to further investigate on whether a person’s memory for perceptual details, or elaborative processing, accounts for the picture effect on false memory for both younger and older adults. In this study, Smith et al. 2015) investigated the effect of pictures on the memories of both younger and older adults, where it was discovered that pictures, not visual words, caused a reduction in the older adult’s false memories.

The researchers performed two experiments. In the first experiment, they provided the participants three study modality conditions: auditory only (A), auditory plus visual words (A+V), and auditory plus picture (A+P). The experiment helped with investigating the effects that pictures had on an older adult’s false recall, where past studies used recognition tests on the older adult participants (Smith et al. 015). While the younger adults displayed the expected decrease in false memories when presented with visual words and further decrease in false memories when presented with pictures, the older adults showed reduction in false memory only for the picture condition.

Due to this finding, they erformed the second experiment to determine the reasoning behind this pattern, and they found that the older adults did not encode sensory details of processing as easily in the visual word ondition due to resource limitation and thus did not the information in time to avoid false memories (Smith et al. 2015). Overall the study implied that the enhanced semantic memory engaged by the picture presentation is responsible for the reduced false memories by adults (Smith et al. 2015). Although the both aforementioned studies do not address the same question and study different age groups, both do provide evidence that photography does have some effect (positive or negative) on whether or not a person can develop false memories.

However, in a different study, researchers, Brainerd et al. (2008), explored not the effect of pictures on someone’s memory, but instead, the effect of emotion on a person’s memory. In this study, the researchers investigated how emotional valence influences false memory by doing a conjoinrecognition methodology, which separated four causes of false recognition: impaired verbatim memory for true items, semantic similarity of false items to true items, phantom recollection of false items, and response bias (Brainerd et al. 008). Their experiments tried to combat the belief that remembering negative events would not stimulate high levels of false memory, in effort to have their findings lead to future research revolved around different forms of memory: autobiography memory, eyewitness memory, traumatic memory, and “neuroscience of emotional memory” (Brainerd et al. 2008). For the procedure, the first experiment had a visual presentation procedure, and the second, an oral presentation procedure.

The first experiment involved words being presented one a time on a screen, a 5-minute buffer activity, and a recognition test that included four types of test items: targets, critical distractors (the false-memory items), and unrelated distractors (one third was positive, another third neutral and the last one third negative valences). The second experiment involved the words being orally presented to the subjects, similar set up in the recognition test except the test being hand-written.

Based on the results, the false-memory effects for all three types of valence in both experiments and the placement of the decision criterion was very “conservativeā€, regardless of valence (Brainerd et al. 2008). The participants displayed more false memory for negative critical distractors than for neutral ones, and more false memory for neutral critical distractors than for positive ones. The valence had the same but smaller directional effect on true memory.

The semantic memory process (similarity judgment) and verbatim memory process (recollection rejection) both caused false memory to increase as the emotional valence changed from positive to neutral to negative; when the subjects falsely accepted a negative or neutral critical distractor, it was because it provoked feelings of meaning similarity (Brainerd et al. 2008). Overall, the negative valence greatly enhanced the familiarity of the semantic content of critical distractors, where as positive valence had the opposite effect. The negative valence also reduced the subject’s ability to use verbatim “traces” to suppress errors (Brainerd et al. 008).

Many more studies have proposed the impact of different factors that contribute to false memory development in a person, young and old. Reading the aforementioned articles provided insight on how false memory can be induced, reduced or prolonged, especially in adults and very young children. Studies have shown that older adults are not only impaired in remembering events that happened earlier, but also are particularly susceptible to false memories of events that never happened. Also, experiments have demonstrated that higher false recall and recognition are more apparent in older adults compared to that in younger adults.

Education, social media, emotions and general aging have been associated with memory performance, and many tests (DRM paradigm, study modality, etc. ) have supported this discovery. Hopefully, future research topics would be able to investigate how to reduce false recall from prolonging in a person’s life or how to test what conditions prevent people from committing a source monitoring error. Future studies could also test how forewarnings or collaborative recall could actually impact false recognition or recall in any age group.