Psychologists state that the way memory works is far from that of a video camera recording. You might have experienced this yourself. When you try to remember something, no matter how vivid the recalling is, the sequence of events that play back in your mind is not a carbon copy of the real episode. This is due to the fact that the process of remembering goes beyond the clicking of a play button that starts a movie off. Rather, recalling memories involve a mechanism similar to that of a translation, except that in the case of remembering, not only the words are interpreted; but the entire experience (including the smells, flavours and sounds).
To put it simply, it happens through a three-step process, which respectively are: Encoding, storage and retrieving. For example, think of a piece of news you read (encoding), you keep it in your head (storage) and tell a friend about it (retrieving). However, in the retrieval phase, instead of reconstructing it word by word, you recollect its overall message, its meaning. You interpret it.
This was a concept that Professor Bartlet gathered in the early 1930’s - through his War of the Ghosts study - when memory had recently began to be explored through the lens of psychology. Prior to that, the feature of remembering was regarded as a philosophical subject. Still, despite the new approach, Bartlet’s discoveries seemed too implausible, and only 30 years later, with the advent of cognitive psychology and its use of computer metaphors, were his concepts authenticated.
It does not stop here, though. Because, how a piece of news, a situation or an episode is interpreted depends entirely on who is experiencing it. Factors like values, culture and ethnicity will all influence the interpretation process, and therefore, how the memory will be constructed. And, there is more, the same individual is likely to form different memories of the very same event. As the present rewrites the past and memory networks are changed as a response to new acquired knowledge; people, experiences and feelings begin to be perceived in different ways. For example, think of someone or a place you used to like. Now, for whatever reason, that situation is no more. To some extent part of the memories you had of that person/place begin to fade (maybe the good ones), others will be highlighted (the unfortunate ones) and some possibly even created altogether (false memories).
So, how much of what you remember actually happened? It seems bewildering, but have you ever considered the fact that some of your memories might even be completely false? In the same way that we go through life colouring our past memories over and over again it has been also demonstrated that an entire circumstance in life can be planted in people´s minds. E. Loftus and J. Pickrell’s ingenious lost in the mall experiment showed how this can happen.
They selected a group of participants who they saw throughout 6 weeks, approximately every fortnightly. After talking to participant’s parents and relatives the experimenters chose three real childhood stories and a false story: that when they were around 5 years old they got lost during a shopping trip and were found by an older lady. The experimenters would say to the participants ‘your parents told us you got lost in a shopping mall when you were 5!’ During the forthcoming meetings, each participant wrote down whatever they could recall from the 4 events (the three real stories and the false one). The results? 25 per cent of those who took part in the study were completely susceptible to the fabricated event and ended up believing in it, with one of the 24 participants writing down around 900 words to describe the false memory while using less than 400 to retell the real ones. Others went on to ‘remember’ things such as the old lady’s hat or how upset their parents were when they were reunited.
Why is this important? It is important because it has also been found that completely false memories may impact individuals to the extent of influencing their behaviour in the long term, as E. Geraerts 2008’s research shows.
The good news is that the majority of participants are not vulnerable to having entirely false memories implanted in their minds, which should indicate that when extrapolated to the wider population these findings should follow in a similar pattern. Importantly, psychologists observed that both children and older people are more exposed to this phenomenon. As for the adult population, research has shown that individuals who range in the continuum of fantasy proneness as well as those afflicted by chronic stress are the ones more susceptible to memory implantation.
Thank you for reading fellow Steemitons!