Can False Memories be Implanted?

Ajantha Uvaraju

Abstract

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This study is to find out that is it possible for memory to be implanted in students. It is hypothesized if the memory constructed for implanting is highly a plausible event then it is more likely for creation of false memory to occur. Thirty participants of first year Monash University students are recruited. Each of them is accompanied with a partner who is closely related to the subjects (ie: parent, sibling or close relative who knew the subject too well). The partners are asked to read descriptions of 2 events happened to subjects when they were 5 years old and a false event. The one plausible false event is describing of the subject being lost in a mall while shopping depicted from Loftus and Pickrell (1995). While the other is a less plausible memory is an overnight hospitalization for a high fever with possible ear infection made up by Hyman et al (1995). Subjects are split into half where one group receives the plausible event while other the less plausible. Subjects are asked to recall everything that they could remember about each event.After that, they are also asked to the rate the confidence from scale of 1 to 5 (1=not confident and 5= extremely confident that it has happened). Here participant would remember the more plausible false memory comparing with lesser one. As memory that is more plausible tend to have higher rating in confidence and in clarity. It is found that the more plausible the event is more likely to be planted in memory than the less plausible event.

Introduction

People equate of memory as to a recording device, ability to accurately documenting and storing everything that happens with perfect accuracy and clarity. In reality, memory is very prone to fallacy. This is due to existence of false memory. Bartholomew, (2001) describes false memory as a mental experience which mistakenly taken for a representation of an event from one’s personal past It consists of either remembering items or events that never happened, or remembering them differently from the way they actually occurred. Memory of false event has practice especially by psychologist. One of it is repressed memory recovered from a witness via hypnotism of an event that had happen 20 years ago is used to testify against a convict of murder.

In spite of this without hypnosis, studies show that people’s memories are open to influence. For instance, Loftus and Pickerel (1995) who conducted research on adults regarding memories of their childhood event that happened and asked them to remember these events with a false memory added into as well. Experiments demonstrated that memories for entirely false events can be implanted. It has been argued that there are limits to the types of events or beliefs that can be suggestively implanted, and that only events that are plausible can be implanted in memory ( Hyman, Gilstrap, Decker, & Wilkinson, 1998 ; Hyman & Kleinknecht, 1999 ; Lindsay & Read, 1994 ; Pezdek, Finger, & Hodge, 1997 ). In support of this statement, a report by Pezdek at. al (1997) shows successfully implanting a memory of being lost in participants, but being unable to implant a memory for a less plausible event (receiving a rectal enema).

Although, few past research like Loftus was indeed an illustration of planting false event in subjects. Nevertheless there are drawbacks. The memory used in implanting here is common thus suggestively implanting a memory like getting lost in the mall have high chance of succeeding.

Therefore this study is to find the role of event plausibility in memory planting by comparing the type of false memory implanted like high plausible false event and implausible false event and its effects on confidence rating among university students. It is hypothesized if the memory constructed for implanting is highly a plausible event then it is more likely for creation of false memory to occur.

Method

As mentioned the participants of this study are students of first year from Monash University consisting of 15 females and 15 male students and age must be 18 years or older. Each subject is required to bring a partner who is: (1) no more than 2 year younger than subject, (2) was close relative or sibling of the subject and (3) have been in contact with subject at age 5 to 6. The sampling method used here is convenience sampling.The procedures will be approved by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee

Design

In this study the independent variable is type of false event which isplausible and least plausible event.Plausible event is subject being lost in shopping mall and the least possible event is overnight hospitalization due to fever with possible of ear infection. As for the dependent variable is confidence and clarity rating. This experiment is design in an experimental strategy and between-subjects experiment design.

Materials

The dependent variable is measured in terms of clarity and confidence where in clarity rating is a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 as unclear to 10 being very clear and also the rate of confidence from scale of 1 to 5 (1=not confident and 5= extremely confident that more could be remember.

Procedure

Study begins with the subjects’ partner in writing the participants’ childhood memories in a booklet, and from that list of the childhood memories two memories are chosen and together with the constructed one. Participants are randomly and evenly assigned into groups of two with each group has its distinct condition. In Group (1): Subjects are provided two memories of true event and one memory of false plausible event, group (2): two memories of true event and one memory less false plausible event. The partners are instructed to read a brief description of the chosen entree given to them to respective subject which include the name of event and age of subject when it happened. After reading the description participants will be asked to recall themselves of the event and to talk about what they can remember space is also provided in filling in their part of the memory. At the end of the session they are asked to think about the event discuss and were later call for another session in a week time. After a week they were presented rate their memory in terms of confidence. They the rate the confidence from scale of 1 to 5 (1=not confident and 5= extremely confident that this event did happen in their childhood. Finally after complete rating they are to be inform on the research objective and also regarding that the certain memory suggested are fictitious. The participants do receives our apologies for our deception and are asked to guess which memory is true and which is false.

Results

In this study result involves in number of subjects who remembered the more plausible events versus less plausible events and confidence rating given its upmost importance. Data on subject remembering true event is overlooked. The data will be analyses as such: 1) counting number of subjects believe plausible events in each condition in group 1, group 2. Same goes for number of subjects who believed the less plausible event. 2) The amount are compared with each other. It is normally that number of subjects remembering the plausible events exceeds more than the less plausible events. Subjects rated their confidence rating on each event on the term that how positive they are of that the event happened. With a scale of 1 to 5 (1=not confident and 5= extremely confident that it has happened). It can be forecast that the mostly rating score for plausible event will be more than 1 compare to the relative less plausible event. Based from scores the mean for confidence rating will be calculated for both event. If the hypothesis is supported the mean confidence in plausible event will be high and less for less plausible event. As well as the median will show the similar pattern with a higher valu compare with the less plausible event.

Discussion

The purpose of this study is to test the hypothesis that the memory constructed for implanting is highly a plausible event then it is more likely for creation of false memory to occur. It is expected of the finding that relatively plausible events are more likely to be recall than less plausible events. According to Pezdek, Blandon-Gitlin and et. al (2006) the reason behind this is because of the significant interaction of plausibility and imagination is that if people find that event to be plausible, they tend to search more of their autobiographical memory for relevant details of the event. Study provided by Pezdek, Finger and et. al (1997) shows the finding that relatively plausible events are more likely to be planted in memory than relatively implausible events has implications for the cognitive processes underlying suggestibility. In their study three events were falsely recalled and that all three were relatively plausible event. This can be explained via literature of script processing on understanding cognitive process. Based on Grasser, 1981: Grasser and Nakamura, 1982), a specific memory trace is formed by the comprehender when a scripted activity is experienced. This is because memory trace consists of pointers to an epitome script that has been copied from a permanent generic script. As a result the epitome script for the specific event includes all the script-relevant action triggered by the experienced event as well as script-relevant actions that were triggered by default due to script-based inferences that occurred during comprehension. This means when a description of a specific occurrence of an activity suggested to a person and asked if it has happened to the individual, instantly the person will cross check the memory suggested with his or her’s own memory for related occurrence of that activity to verify if a match is found. If described memory and memory of individual overlaps there is more likely a match and the described event is evaluated to be true.

However there are cases that when it comes to planting memory implausible memory can be planted. Mazzoni et.al (2001) in the effects of suggestion new information could make events seem less implausible. Mazzoni (1991) exposing people to new information designed to enhance plausibility removes two of the three major ways in which they know that an event did not happen to them. When a person initially thinks an event did not happen, they may base this on three sources of information. First, is not having memory of the event. Second, knowledge about the event is insufficient to realize that they may have experienced it. Third, is having the knowledge about it then allows them to reject it as part of their own autobiography.

Limitation of this study can be mentioned such as this study is restricted to university student only as it does not represent the whole population. In future research manipulation of event plausibility should be done on different degree of plausible event and different suggestive technique. In addition, instead of convenience sampling a better alternative sampling method need to apply.

References

Hyman, E I; Husband, T H; Billings, J F;. (1995). False memories of childhood experiences. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 181-195.

J, B. D. (1984). False Memories, Psychology of. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 5254-5259.

Loftus, E.F, Pickerell, J.E. (1995). The Formation of False Memory. Psychiatrics Annals, 25(12), 720-725.

Hyman, I. E. & Kleinknecht, E. E. (1999). False childhood memories: Research, theory, and applications.(In L. M. Williams & V. L.Banyard (Eds.),Trauma and memory(175—188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.)

Hyman, I. E., Gilstrap, L. L., Decker, K. & Wilkinson, C. (1998). Manipulating remember and know judgements of autobiographical memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 12, 371-386

Pezdek, K., Finger, K. & Hodge, D. (1997). Planting false childhood memories: The role of event plausibility. Psychological Science, 8, 437-441

Lindsay, D. S. & Read, J. D. (1994). Psychotherapy and memories of childhood sexual abuse: A cognitive perspective. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 281-338

Hyman, I. E., Gilstrap, L. L., Decker, K. & Wilkinson, C. (1998). Manipulating remember and know judgements of autobiographical memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 12, 371-386

Lindsay, D. S. & Read, J. D. (1994). Psychotherapy and memories of childhood sexual abuse: A cognitive perspective. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 281-338

( KATHY PEZDEK; BLANDON-GITLIN, Iris;, 2008)

PEZDEK K., & BLANDON-GITLIN, i;. (2008). Planting False Memories for Childhood Sexual Abuse Only Happens to Emotionally Disturbed People…Not Me. Applied cognitive psychology, 1466.

Graesser, A.C., & Nakamura, G.V (1982). The Impact of a schema on comprehension and memory.The psychology of learning and motivation:Advances in research and theory.,(16).New York Academic Press.

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