Discerning True and False Memories

Topic: Discerning True and False Memories

Posted by: Melanie

Key Terms:

  • Misinformation Effect: a memory bias that occurs when misinformation affects people's reports of their own memory.
  • Retrieval Cue: any stimulus that helps us recall information in long-term memory.


Because memory is reconstruction as well as reproduction, we can't be sure whether a memory is real by how real it feels.

People's initial interpretations influence their perceptual memories.In Halberstadt and Niedenthal's study, New Zealand University students were shown morphed faces and asked to explain why this person is happy/angry. Half an hour later, when participants were asked to slide a bar to find the expression they had seen before, participants who explained anger recalled the face as angrier than those who had explained happiness.

We also can't judge how real a memory is by how persistent it is. Because memories of imagined experiences are more restricted to the gist of the supposed event, false memories sometimes outlast their true memories.

Although false memories created by suggested misinformation and misattributed sources may FEEL as real as true memories and may be very persistent, brain scans tell us a different story. For example, in Roediger and McDermott's experiment (1995), the brain lighted up in the temporal lobe area only when correctly remembering a spoken word. This shows that although the people couldn't tell the difference between their true and false memories, their brains could!

In experiments on eyewitness testimony, researchers have found that the most confident and consistent eyewitnesses are the most persuasive; however they are not often the most accurate.

Memory construction helps explain why "hypotically refreshed" memories of crimes so easily incorporate errors. One time, Thompson was accused of rape. Although he was a near-perfect match to the victim's memory of the rapist, he had an alibi: he was being interviewed on live television. Then it came to light that the victim had been watching the interview on television, confusing her memories of Thompson with those of the rapist.

Since the misinformation effect can occur as police and attorneys ask questions framed by their own understandings of an event, train police interviewers are trained to ask less suggestive, more effective questions.To activate retrieval cues, detective asks witness to visualize the scene, no matter how trivial, then asks evocative follow-up questions.

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Related Videos and Pictures:

False Memory and Eyewitness Testimony

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfhIuaD183I

Child Eyewitness Testimony Experiment

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyDFRyOC490

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