False memory can be defined as a manifestation in which people tend to remember events in a way that deviates from the way the actual event took place. In some instances, people remember things that never happened at all due to the configuration of experience. Usually, false memories may be so vibrant in the human mind and people may hold the memory with a high degree of poise. Therefore, it may be very difficult to convince someone holding the false memory that whatever he/she believes in is not right. Psychologists have argued that the occurrence of false memories is as real as those of true memories, and they originate from the experiences that cause true memories (Roediger H. L., 2002). Therefore, the study and understanding of false memory creates an insight into the understanding of how human memory operates. Psychologists have tried to conduct experimental research in the laboratory to determine the factors behind false memory. The aim of this research paper is to carry out systematic review of available literature on false memory and discuss the theories that explain false memory as well as highlight the potential factors leading to false memory among individuals.
Can we say that human experiences are a major reason for the occurrence of false memory? The fact that experiences remain in the mind for a human being is perceived to be a major reason for the occurrence of false memory among many individuals. Usually, the human mind tends to focus much on experiences that leave bitter memories in their lives. When a person thinks of that same experience, false memories are likely to arise associating what has happened with their past. This research seeks to conduct systematic literature review on the works on false memory in a psychological point of view and determine the factors that majorly cause false memories in human. In this research, literature based on laboratory findings on false memory done by psychologists will be considered relevant for analysis and review because they provide information that have been obtained through scientific approaches.
Guideline Questions for the Systematic Review
In order to conduct the systematic review on the topic of False Memory in Psychology, the following questions are important to be answered by the research materials available on this are of interest:
- What is the psychological meaning of False Memory?
- What are the causes of False Memory?
- What are the theories that explain the occurrence of False Memory?
In this research, systematic review of both electronic and literature materials on false memory are done. The choice of the materials for review is guided by the laboratory findings on False Memory. It is important to appreciate that various psychologists have done laboratory experiments in order to develop theories that explain the occurrence of false memories in human beings. This research conducts a systematic review on available literature talking about False Memory in order to understand the occurrence false memory among human beings.
Various psychologists have done research on memory and the various disorders associated with it. Distortion of the memory, for example, has been an area that has attracted the interest and attention of different psychologists.
According to Carmichael et al. the way forms are considered determines the way they can be remembered. They gave an example of how the human memory reflects two circles that are joined using a straight line. They argued that, in the memory, the two circles are perceived as eyeglasses. The human memory tends to associate events with what they already have in the memory (Tversky, 2008).
Moreover, Deese in 1959 and Underwood in 1965 reiterated the fact that people can easily fall victims of false memory in remembering items. They argued that if an individual already had an encounter with something related to an item presented, they can easily false remember the item an consider it to be the other one they had interacted with. For instance, a pestle can be false remembered if one had encountered a pestle and mortar in the past.
Much later in 1981, Johnson and Raye regarded memory distortions to be associated with flawed processes that bring faulty reality. They hinted that in the process of remembering and recall, human beings occasionally confuse the information in the process of encoding and reproducing information. Triggering information already stored in the memory sometimes lead to misrepresentation of the existing reality. Furthermore, errors in encoding may occur due to an imbalance between internal and external sources of information for instance, a person may attribute what is seen to what is imagined.
In a research, E. Loftus initiated an experimental research in 1970s with the intention to investigate the influence on the memory information about the witnessing of an event and the actual testimony about the event sometime later (Loftus E. F., 1978). In the study, people were watched a film on an accident involving an automobile. Later, the same people were asked to respond to some question about the event that they had watched (Loftus, 1995). When asked about the event, people had different answers for the same questions framed in different ways. Loftus laboratory experiments involving films were very successful in the study of the human memory and how false memories come about.
In his conclusions on his experiments on memory, Loftus said that false memories occur mainly due to errors that result from source monitoring. Confusions arise from an imbalance between the self-generated inference and the real event. Therefore, cognitive processes that involve information production, expansion and integration across individual experiences from different sources reveal associative, visionary and rational processes that are prerequisite for intricate thinking. Any fallacies in these cognitive processes make human beings susceptible to false memories.
Source Monitoring Theory of False Memory
The theory is based on the assumption that people misrepresent perceptual information that is experienced different contexts to support memory for events that did not take place.
This theory believes that the existence of several sources of perceptual information about something or event increases the tendency of an individual to believe that they have experienced something even when it is not true (Linda Henkel, 2000). Usually, people have sources of information on something through sound, feeling, tasting, sight or experiencing it. Once the sources of information are more, the likelihood of having false memory is very high.
The theory holds it that the existence of false memory stems from the ability of the brain to source perceptual information on the event from several unrelated sources and recognizes them as one real event.
The proponents of this theory such as Linda Henkel argue that the occurrence of false memory is more likely to manifest if the brain connects several sources of information on a particular event and perceive all these sources as one (Linda Henkel, 2000). Hence, the information that gets configured in the mind is believed to be an experience of the real event when it is not. Such people usually support their false memories using evidence from a variety of sources that convince them that what they believe in is true.
The implication of this research was that human beings sometimes imagine certain things and believe that they have an experience with the same when it is not the case. Further, the research indicates that an exposure to an object or event repeatedly through sight, sound or by imaginations has a high degree of manipulating the memory of a person prompting him or her to believe that he/she has had experience with something even when it is not real.
Causes of False Memory
Inaccurate Perception of an ongoing event may lead to false memories. False memory sometimes begins to manifest while the event is still in progress. A wrong perception of an ongoing event due to an error in the encoding of the event leads to instant false memory. When perceived wrong while still going on, it becomes difficult to remember the event later.
In addition, inferences that people make during the event is a probable cause of false memory. For instance, while the event is in progress, people will tend to link the event with their prior knowledge about the same event experienced earlier. In the end, the knowledge that the person conceives about the new event is corrupted by the imaginations of the past event. For example, while reading a story or listening to a story being told, people usually relate what they read or hear to what they know about such an event. Later, the thought of the story is different from the real story read or told.
Moreover, similarity between new events to one already in the memory leads to misrepresentation of the new event. The memories and thoughts of the past event will over-ride the new event making it be in a different configuration (Linda Henkel, 2000).
Misattributions of past familiar events also lead to false memory. An individual attributes similar events to new experiences and create an imagination of an experience of the same thing even when it is not true. For example, on mention of a name that sounds familiar, one would be tempted to imagine that an individual who is named is the one they had some experience with earlier.
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Loftus, E. F. (1995). The formation of false memories. . Psychiatric Annals, , 25, 720-725.
Marsh, E. J. (2008). False memories. In . In J. B. Roediger, Learning and memory: A comprehensive reference: Vol. 2. Cognitive psychology of memory (pp. (pp. 221-238)). Elsevier: Oxford .
Roediger, H. L. (2002). Processes affecting accuracy and distortion in memory: An overview. In J. A. In M. L. Eisen, Memory and suggestibility in the forensic interview (pp. (pp. 3-28).). New jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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