False Memories Are Everywhere

Psych-Ponder-800x150 rectangle

The following report was written as part of my graduate studies in General Psychology. It has not been published anywhere but this site. Please contact me before reusing or reporting this paper.

Course: Cognitive Psychology

Assignment: Discussion post based on the text and three research articles of our own finding.

False Memories Are Everywhere

Research has shown that false memories arise in many scenarios as we recall and retrieve information in a variety of ways and with a wide range of internal and external influences, as discussed below.

Numerous studies over the decades have shown that most people do not accurately report details when asked to recall them later, and that this recall can be influenced and altered by the words used to retrieve the memory (Loftus & Palmer, 1974). It is proposed that this happens because there are two types of memory that integrate on recall: (1) that which is perceived at the event; and (2) other information available and given later. The memory is then “reconstructed” with both the old and new information (Loftus & Palmer, 1974, p. 58).

Studies have also shown that autobiographical memories are especially vulnerable to the introduction of false information (Heaps & Nash, 2001). False memories of early childhood experiences are highly susceptible to suggestion once the individual is an adult, especially if given by parents or trusted individuals (Goldstein, 2014). In an experiment, past false events were implanted and recalled as memory, and when these events were imagined and repeatedly recalled they became even more embedded and the original source of information was lost (Heaps & Nash, 2001). However, researchers were able to highlight some differences between false memories and actual memories, such as the vividness of recall, the perspective of recall (first person or observer), who presented the information, and the individual’s desire to identify with and believe the memory (Heaps & Nash, 2001).

Garry and Gerrie (2005) found that “[b]oth doctored and true photographs can cultivate false memories for personal experience, and true photographs can lead to false memories for the news” (p.323). It was again noted that the narrative and source of the information about the photo affected how it integrated into a person’s memory (Garry and Gerrie, 2005).

A more recent study researched the effect of Twitter on false memories. It was found that information from more reliable sources had more of a chance of altering memories, and that “…false information that was acquired via Twitter was less likely to be integrated into a memory…” (Fenn, Griffin, Uitvlugt, & Ravizza, 2014). These results, along with past research showing that people tend to accept memory information from someone they trust, led the researchers to further propose that this same concept applies to social media (Fenn, Griffin, Uitvlugt, & Ravizza, 2014).

With all of these influences, false memories are more common than one might think and can have both minor and profound impacts on our lives. This is especially true in the criminal justice system. “There is ample evidence that identifications are difficult even when subjects in lab experiments have been instructed to pay close attention to what is happening” (Goldstein, 2014, p. 233). Three-quarters of convictions overturned by DNA were based on eyewitness testimony, and researchers are working on recommendations to correct these injustices (Goldstein, 2014). Experts continue to study memory and ways to improve accurate identification and memory techniques (Goldstein, 2014). In the meantime, it would seem prudent to carefully analyze our own memories upon recall and examine them for outside influences.


Fenn, K. M., Griffin, N. R., Uitvlugt, M. G., & Ravizza, S. M. (2014). The effect of twitter exposure on false memory formation. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(6), 1551-6. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/docview/1630745738?accountid=6579

Garry, M., & Gerrie, M. P. (2005). When photographs create false memories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(6), 321-325. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00390.x

Goldstein, E. B. (2015) Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Heaps, C. M., & Nash, M. (2001). Comparing recollective experience in true and false autobiographical memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 27(4), 920-930. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/docview/214370441?accountid=6579

Loftus, E.F. & Palmer, J.C. (1974). Reconstruction of auto-mobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 13, 585 -589

2 thoughts on “False Memories Are Everywhere

  1. This is really interesting. I had heard about this before. My memory is not so good, and I find I often wonder how accurate a memory I’m thinking about really is. That’s when it’s time to ask you or Donna, “Hey do you remember this? Is this how it happened?” Unfortunately, I’m not so convinced your memories are any more accurate than my own, hahahaha! But the more who can corroborate it, the more I accept it as truth lol.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s