November 21, 2013
Even Memory Recall Prodigies Susceptible To False Memories

People who can recall exceptional amounts of detail from years past can be tricked into making fake memories.

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 19, 2013 — People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, UC Irvine psychologists and neurobiologists have found.

In a series of tests to determine how false information can manipulate memory formation, the researchers discovered that subjects with highly superior autobiographical memory logged scores similar to those of a control group of subjects with average memory.

But if they aren't fed false information their recall is quite accurate.

“While they really do have super-autobiographical memory, it can be as malleable as anybody else’s, depending on whether misinformation was introduced and how it was processed,” Patihis said. “It’s a fascinating paradox. In the absence of misinformation, they have what appears to be almost perfect, detailed autobiographical memory, but they are vulnerable to distortions, as anyone else is.”

So deceivers can deceive even people with great memories.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 November 21 07:40 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at November 23, 2013 7:20 AM:

I used to have a photographic memory, gradually lost it in my early twenties, much to my dismay. Here's what I recall of the experience: The first time you'd summon up a memory, you got the real thing, if you took care not to think anything that would distort the recollection. The whole exercise required some care in the way you thought.

But, the second time you accessed the memory, you recalled the first time you'd brought it up. Photograph of the photograph, as it were.

So, yes, easily subject to deliberate manipulation. I think those with photographic memories don't actually have better storage than others, they've just got better routines for retrieving the memories without contaminating them.

Neil Craig said at November 24, 2013 8:04 AM:

Which suggests photographic memory is not inherent to only a few people but that we could all do it if we had a working science of the mind.

William Bogambu said at November 25, 2013 8:43 AM:

The only way to avoid false memories is to move to a desert island away from popular culture, nothing more than a false memory factory. Culture steering political correctness is nothing but an Orwellian doublespeak avoidance of reality. Idiocracy is as idiocracy does, and it only gets worse.

PRice said at May 8, 2015 2:13 AM:

People don’t re-experience an emotional memory when they just recall it. And it’s yet another level further removed from an emotional memory when someone describes their recall of it.

To illustrate these differences with an example, I burned my left index fingertip last week being careless while toasting bread on an infrared oven grill. It wasn’t severe pain, and my fingertip has healed.

The pain is still stored with my emotional memory, and is probably why my memory is very clear. I recall the visual details of the grill, how my fingertip looked, the pain I initially felt, and the relief I felt when I held my finger under running cold water.

The researchers introduced factors to try to confuse the subjects about their recall of their emotions, and their verbal descriptions of their recall. The researchers were very sure that confusing the subjects’ thinking-brain recalls and descriptions produced evidence that the subjects’ emotional memories were changed and falsified.

Can you see how far removed the researchers were from studying emotional memories? They didn’t demonstrate that they understood where emotional memories were stored because they didn’t attempt to engage the subjects’ feeling brain areas.

Let’s imagine that the researchers analogously studied my burned fingertip. They would deny that I can accurately retrieve and re-experience my emotional memory of my accident if I initially say that I pushed the kitchen faucet handle all the way in the cold direction, then after repeated questioning, I say that I wasn’t sure that the handle was pushed all the way over to Cold.

The problem the researchers’ viewpoint created with this study was that they were determined to produce a finding that emotional memories could be falsified. To this end, the study defined the subjects’ recalls of post-9/11 emotions and descriptions of their recalls as emotional memories.

The researchers’ strawman definition of emotional memories was simply wrong. Maybe their purposeful error could be overlooked if it was confined to this study.

But it isn’t. You can imagine the damage this viewpoint creates when mental health professionals adopt it, and deny their patients’ feelings, experiences, and emotional memories.

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