Scientists Can Implant False Memories And Reverse Them Back Easily

by Kareena Dodeja

Scientists Can Implant False Memories And Reverse Them Back Easily

April 8, 2021

We have always thought of scenarios in our heads, there is a way we sometimes make up false memories. We can be susceptible to subliminal messaging or comments easily so there is a part where we could believe something would have happened even if it didn’t. What if we told you there is research that can reverse the false scenarios we have? It is possible. Find out!

The idea that a person who has experienced a traumatic event could selectively forget memories of their trauma.

Are You Holding On To False Memories?

Researchers have found a way to plant false memories and undo them; it is amusing to know how it is possible. The researchers in Germany and UK were able to work on planting the false memories and with the help of volunteers, they could rule them out. The scientists interviewed the subjects who had undergone childhood events that did not happen to them such as getting lost or being in a car accident.

The study is titled, ‘Rich False Memories of Autobiographical Events Can Be Reversed’ and was published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers conversed through different techniques with the volunteers to reassess their memories and help them realize that it could be false or a figment of imagination. Their research emphasized how our memories are shaped while using techniques to recognize and ruling them out.

The lead author of the study, Aileen Oberst is the head of the Department of Media Psychology at the University of Haegen mentioned that what we can show in principle is that it is possible to empower people to identify what might be a false memory. The study stated that false memories of autobiographical events can create enormous problems in forensic settings such as false accusations.

Scientists have been working on human memory to understand the brain better. There have been many experiments conducted previously. Research suggested that true memories tend to be stronger for people than false ones, according to a memory researcher, Nancy Dennis in an article. Dr. Dennis wasn’t part of the study but said that people can have vivid false memories or weaker true memories which make it difficult to tease them apart on an individual basis.

Dr. Dennis said that the hard part is when you want to take someone on the witness stand or a therapists’ office and want to figure out if the memory is true or false. It was a tricky situation. There has been tons of research done by false-memory researchers; many have figured out that it is easy to develop false memories. What might be concerning is that people with false memory could discredit in situations where the real victims can be in trouble.

How To Reverse Misleading Memories?

The research on how to undo false memories has been a new arena waiting to be explored. The study involved 52 people with an average age of 23 at the Johannes Gutenburg University of Mainz, Germany. The subjects were told that the research would be on childhood memories and their parents would be part of it. The subjects were given a task to not talk to their parents about the study.

The study was divided into two parts; in the first part, they planted false memories in the subjects. The researchers sent a questionnaire to the parents of the subjects asking them if their children had undergone any negative experiences such as being stung by a wasp or running away from home.

They also asked the parents to suggest two events that could have happened but did not take place as false memories are likely to be picked up if they are plausible, according to the researchers. The interviewers spoke to the subjects through three interviews to implant the false memories. The interviewers had no idea if the situation had happened or whether the recollection was real.

In the conversations, the subjects were told that their parents had provided details of their childhood. The interviewers spoke about the four memories that the parents mentioned- two that were fabricated and two real. They tried to make the subjects recollect their memories by suggesting the event indirectly for one incident and the rest, tried to encourage them to recall the memories.

The volunteers tried an aggressive interview style and at the end of the interviews, the subjects said that they had some level of memory about the fake events 27% of the time after the interviewers suggested it. According to the study, the volunteer’s made up events 56% of the time when the interviews were aggressive during the interview.

The volunteers could describe memories 20% of the minimally suggested events and under 45% if they were aggressively suggested. Some rejected the false memories as they had no recollection of them. Here comes the second part of the study where they tried to reverse the false memories throughout the next two interviews.

The researchers then asked the test subjects to recall each event, true or not, including details like who was present and when it happened.

The Success Of The Reverse Experiment

The interviewer told the volunteers that the memories they spoke about were not based on their own experiences but their families’ stories or photographs. And in the second session, the other interviewer repeatedly asked them to recollect the events which would trigger them to remember the false memories. The volunteers were asked to reflect if it had been applied to any of the incidents they mentioned. The volunteers believed they had undergone childhood trauma through the suggestive and aggressive tactics by the interviewers. There had been a 15 to 25% acceptance of their beliefs.

At the end of the research, the study found that subjects were detached from the fake memories they thought and only a few still clung to the fake memories in detail. The volunteers had confidence in their true memories and described them in detail, according to the study. In the last two interviews, the belief in fake memories had decreased which was a good sign.

The scientists did a follow-up one year later with the subjects and found out that 74% of them rejected the false memories having no recollection of it whatsoever. The false memory rates had dropped by 5%, false memories can be reduced by easy-to-implement techniques without causing collateral damage to true memories, according to the study.

We can easily make up fake memories just by seeing photographs or hearing something around us. This research has successfully tried to reverse those memories so only real memories can prevail, should we trust our brain though?


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