How can memories be contaminated?

How can memories be contaminated?

Hundreds of following research have shown that erroneous information that people are given to after seeing an incident can corrupt memory (see Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011; Loftus, 2005). This is a problem, especially when more than one person witnesses a crime. They may each give different details about what they saw, which could lead to the wrong person being arrested or convicted.

There are two main ways in which memories can be corrupted: interference and substitution. Interference occurs when items stored in memory compete for space. So if I learn something new while remembering something old, then the old memory will be interfered with by the new information. For example, if I see someone do something nice then later on find out that they cheated on their partner, this would interfere with my memory of seeing them being kind to someone else because I now have to remember both events. Substitution happens when new information replaces old information instead of alongside it. So if I see someone do something bad then later on find out that they were punished for doing something good, this would substitute for my memory of them doing something bad because now I only remember them doing something bad. Both interference and substitution mean that what I remember isn't necessarily true.

Interference and substitution can both occur between memories that we think are separate experiences.

Can your mind create false memories?

Misinformation and misattribution of the original source of the information are two factors that might impact false memory. Existing information and other memories can potentially interfere with the creation of a new memory, generating a faulty or wholly incorrect remembering of an event. This phenomenon is known as memory distortion or mnemonically inaccurate recollection.

People can also develop false beliefs based on memories that aren't accurate. An example of this is when someone believes that they remembered hearing about some news story on the radio, when in fact they imagined hearing about it. This kind of memory error could lead to people believing things that aren't true.

False memories can also be created by psychologists conducting experiments. In one experiment, participants were shown pictures of faces and told that each face had been seen before. The participants were then asked questions regarding what they believed had happened to each person. Even though none of the faces had actually appeared before them, many reported having met at least one of the people pictured. These results show that people can remember events that haven't taken place if you ask the right questions or give them enough time.

Why do memories get distorted?

Memories aren't accurate recordings of what happened. Instead, memories are rebuilt in a variety of ways after events occur, which means they can be skewed by a variety of variables. Schemas, source amnesia, the misinformation effect, the hindsight bias, the overconfidence effect, and confabulation are among these variables. Memories are also refined over time as more information is learned about how things affect us emotionally. The more we think about something, the better it becomes until one day we look at it again and wonder why it seemed so clear back then.

Our brains use different methods to store information. Long-term memory is stored in the hippocampus while short-term memory slots are filled with information sent from the brain's cortex. Both areas of the brain contribute to the reconstruction of memories, but the hippocampus plays a particularly important role due to its limited capacity. In order for us to remember everything that happens to us, our brains must select what information to keep and what to discard. This selection process is where errors may occur since not all experiences are meaningful or relevant to survive. For example, if you were raised by wolves and taught from an early age that predators are bad, then seeing a big black bear in the woods would likely cause you worry rather than excitement since it matches your perception of what a bear is supposed to feel like.

Errors can also arise when we try to recall memories too late into our lives.

How can you identify a false memory?

Some of the most typical components of false memory are as follows:

  1. Mental experiences that people believe are accurate representations of past events
  2. Trivial details (believing you put your keys on the table when you got home) to much more serious (believing you saw someone at the scene of a crime)

About Article Author

Barbara Pinto

Barbara Pinto is a licensed psychologist, who has been practicing for over 20 years. She has experience in individual therapy, marriage and family therapy, and group therapy. Barbara's areas of expertise include anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among others.

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