False Memories

Updated: Dec 31, 2018


A false memory is a fictitious or inaccurate remembrance of an event that may or may not have happened. Our memory is said to be like a video recorder. While a video recorder truthfully documents and stores the event precisely and accurately, our memory is subject to misconceptions and errors.

Even though we may feel and believe our recollection is accurate, there is no assurance that it is. People can feel confident that their memory is accurate, but this confidence is no guarantee that a memory is correct.


As I was writing my memoir, I tried to distinguish between real and false memories. False memories can be triggered by being influenced by misinformation or attributing the information to someone other than the original source. Our memories can become more precise with the passage of time or with new information. Most of us are not infallible. I’m aware of one exception - she shares wedding vows with me.


Most of the time our false memories are harmless. We may change a character or setting to enhance the story line. We forget where we left our glasses. Other times these false memories can have an impact on our behavior. I'm not a doctor or scientist, so I can't offer a magical cure for this abnormality in our thought process. I can only share with you what I've read and experienced to help you recognize your false memories and help you get back on track. Just like we witness events through our own paradigm, we remember past events filtered by time and experience. It can be more difficult to accurately remember a painful event than a gala event.


While writing my memoirs, I found myself walking a tight rope between what I thought I remembered, and the versions family and friends shared with me. I had to decide whether my version of the events or the version of another was closer to reality. And whether it made a significant difference in the story. Did my sister break one tooth or two when she jumped off the garage into the snowbank? They were her teeth, so two became the "memory". A memoir is a story. Naturally, I want to make the story as plausible and realistic as can be.


So, what causes False Memory? According to the research conducted by Elizabeth Loftus (she does have her PHD in mathematical psychology). Here are some factors she found influenced false memories.

· Misinformation

· Incorrectly attributing the original source of the information

· Existing knowledge

· Other memories can inhibit the formation of a new memory


Any of these factors can cause us to mistakenly recall an event or even perceive it as false. Her research demonstrated that it is possible to induce a false memory through suggestion. Also, false memories form more readily when enough time has passed that the original memory has faded. The further away a person is interviewed from the actual event, the greater the chance for false memories to creep into the history record.


This may be difficult to believe. Everyone has false memories. It would be wonderful if our memories were as reliable as we think they are, but even the best among us can form false memories. Want to prove it to yourself? Start writing your memoirs.

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