False Memories

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False memories can be partially accurate or completely inaccurate events. Using three different experiments or studies, different factors of false memories can be identified. By identifying three actual events and one false event, Loftus provided insight on how suggestion can lead to false memories. An experiment using photographs as memory cues showed that photos can be suggestive and lead to false memoires. A final experiment looking at different personality traits showed that certain individuals are more susceptible to false memories. Understand factors that can lead to false memories is important in the field of psychology because of the interaction between clients and professionals.

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False Memories

Humans are extremely influential beings, they are very susceptible to things such as misinformation and misattribution when taking information from original sources. With this, false memories can be formed. False memories are defined as a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event (Cherry,2019). These memories sometimes contain elements of facts that have been distorted by some means; however, sometimes they may be entirely false and imaginary. There are many factors that can play into false memories, such as emotion, suggestive aspects, and even personality traits.

It is easier than one would think to instill memories of events that did not actually occur. Just the use of suggestion and imagination can lead to these being formed. Elizabeth Loftus explains multiple cases of false memories being implanted in women’s memoires regarding sexual abuse that did not happen. Misinformation can invade memories in different ways such as just talking to people, being suggestively interrogated, or even when something is read or seen about an event that may have been experienced by that individual. Loftus and her staff performed an experiment that focused on planting a “pseudo memory” on the participants. The mildly traumatic, yet not to emotionally stressful, memory that was used, was a specific memory of being lost in a shopping mall or large department store. Twenty-four subjects ranging from age eighteen to fifty-three were used. They were asked about four childhood events, three of them were true and came from relatives, and the fourth one was the false one about getting lost. It was found that sixty-eight percent of the participants recalled of the true event after the first interview and the follow up interviews; moreover, twenty-nine percent remembered either partially or fully the false mall event (Loftus, 1997). With the use of suggestion and imagination, memories of events that did not happen can be instilled into others. This can be done purposefully; however, it can also be done without intending to. In the application to psychology and social work field, doing a follow-up study using a younger age group might be beneficial, especially when looking at childhood trauma.

Photographs are very powerful tools used to remember events, sometimes psychotherapists recommend viewing old photos in hopes of cueing long-forgotten memory. The problem with using photographs to do this are when combined with suggestive influences, they can contribute to false memories. An experiment using forty-five volunteer undergraduates was performed to study the rate of false memory reports with photographs as memory cues. The participants were asked to remember three elementary school related events, two of which were true and one that was a pseudo-event. By random assignment, twenty-three of the participants were given their class photog from the year of the event to be used as a memory cue. Interviews were performed individuals, each narrative, starting with fifth or sixth grade and working back in time, was read and subjects were asked to recall it and rate their confidence of the memory. The pseudo-event was the final narrative told and after the participants were asked to focus on recalling the oldest event, so the pseudo-event. After four days the interviewer called the participants to suggest additional effort and then after a week, they were asked to return to the lab and recall as much as they can about the pseudo-event. It was found with the combination of plausible narratives, social pressure, and memory recovering techniques, a larger percentage. of individuals reported memories of an event that did not occur; moreover, with a photo used as a suggestive influence, the rate of remembering the pseudo-event nearly doubled. There were three different means postulated for the effects of photos. First, it is possible that the photo adds validity to the suggestive narrative. Second, the photo could have allowed the subjects to speculate about details of the event, it was shown that the individuals who did not have the photo had more difficulty to recall relevant details. And the final postulation is that the photo may have blended with the imagination and produced a vivid image of the false event, which contributed to compelling the individuals to believe that the memory actually occurred (Lindsay et al., 2004). This shows that false memories can be induced just by things that are suggestive in nature, such as a photograph. To better look at the results of this experiment, it might be beneficial to have another group that does not receive a class photo, but rather a photo that does not hold substantial significance to the pseudo-event. This will show if the content of the photograph holds significance to the creation of false memories.

It is clear that suggestion is a big thing that leads to false memories, but what about factors regarding the individual themselves? There was a study conducted to examine whether certain personality characteristics are related to being more susceptible to false memories (Frost). Forty volunteer undergraduate students were used for this experiment, first, these individuals took an MBTI test, which is used to assess personability types. It assesses one set of opposing attitudes (introversion versus extroversion) and three sets of functions (sensation versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving.) After the personality test, the participants watched a fifteen-minute video for a scene in the movie Clue and became eyewitnesses to a crime from the scene. Right after the video, the participants were separated and interviewed. During the interview they were asked twelve questions regarding the scene, eight of which were true, and the four remaining were false. During the interview, the participants received feedback on their response. All the responses to the true event questions received neutral feedback, two of the false events also received neutral feedback, and two of the false event questions received confirmatory feedback. A week later the participants completed a yes-no recognition test, which included four questions about the false event items that were already exposed to, four questions about the false events that were not already exposed to, and twelve filler questions, five of which were based on true event questions, four additional true items, and three new items. All of the questions were presented in random order. The results proved that when an interviewer provided confirmatory feedback, it increases the odds that a witness will identify false events; moreover, it was also found that certain personality traits may be linked to false memory induction. It was found that extroverted individuals are slightly more susceptible to false recognition with confirmatory feedback than introverted individuals. Moreover, the thinking-feeling dimension had the strongest relationship to false memories. Not only were these individuals susceptible with confirmatory feedback, but also with neutral feedback (Frost et al., 2006). Altogether, this shows that certain personality traits may help predict an individual’s susceptibility to false memories. To better this experiment, using more individuals would be beneficial in the sense that there would be more personalities used in assessing whether or not a false memory was recalled.

Understanding that false memories are something that can be created through techniques of suggestions is really important for the psychology and social work field. In both of these fields, because there is always interaction and conversation happening with individuals and sometimes that includes reviewing things from the past, both good and bad. Professionals need to be aware of how they are interacting with clients and avoid falsely suggesting that something occurred. It is also important that there is an understanding of how different personalities are more susceptible to creating false memories. By knowing clients and understanding their personalities, professionals can avoid causing adverse effects on them. This is also important from a malpractice perspective, as ultimately inducing a false memory for a client is not ethical and can lead to problems in the individual’s life. Therefore, it is important to understand that false memories are real and that there needs to be caution taken when interacting with clients.


Cherry, K. (2019, March 16). What is a False Memory? Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-false-memory- 2795193?utm_source=sms&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=mobilesharebutton2

Frost, P., Sparrow, S., & Barry, J. (2006). Personality Characteristics Associated with Susceptibility to False Memories. The American Journal of Psychology, 119(2), 193-204. doi:10.2307/20445334

Lindsay, D., Hagen, L., Read, J., Wade, K., & Garry, M. (2004). True Photographs and False Memories. Psychological Science,15(3), 149-154. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.umary.edu/stable/40063945

Loftus, E. (1997). Creating False Memories. Scientific American,277(3), 70-75. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24995913

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False Memories. (2020, Apr 09). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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