Why Does the Human Brain Create False Memories?

Dr Kimberley Wade and Professor Chrisopher French, members of the BFMS Advisory Board, discuss how false memories can be generated and point out that human memory is unreliable and prone to distortion. Includes details of a famous experiment from 1994 in which Elizabeth Loftus was able to convince a quarter of the participants that they had once been lost in a shopping centre as a child. From the BBC website.


The reason our memories are so malleable, Kimberley Wade explains, is because there is simply too much information to take in.

“Our perceptual systems aren’t built to notice absolutely everything in our environment. We take in information through all our senses but there are gaps,” she adds.

“So when we remember an event, what our memory ultimately does is fills in those gaps by thinking about what we know about the world.”

For the most part false memories are about everyday situations with no real consequences except the occasional disagreement with a friend or partner about trivial things like who lost the keys, again.

But sometimes, false memories can have more serious ramifications. For example, if an eyewitness testimony in court contributes to a false conviction.

…. Christopher French of Goldsmiths University in London says there is still a lack of awareness of how unreliable human memory is, especially in the legal system.

“Although this is common knowledge within psychology and widely accepted by anybody who has studied the literature, it’s not widely known about in society more generally,” he says.

“There are still people who believe memory works like a video camera as well as people who accept the Freudian notion of repression – that when something terrible happens the memory is shoved down into the subconscious.”

But the evidence of repressed memories, he adds, is “very thin on the ground”.

To read more please visit the BBC website.

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