People can be tricked into believing fake childhood memories.
About half of the people looked at in a recent study believed a false memory they were told to some degree – like taking a hot air balloon ride as a kid, playing a prank on a teacher, or causing problems at a family wedding – researchers at the University of Warwick in London found.
The researchers analyzed results from eight published false memory studies that involved 423 people, with their results published this week in the journal Memory.
They found that if people are told about a completely fake event and repeatedly imagined it happening, about half of us would think it actually did happen. Here's the breakdown of how vividly people remembered the made-up event:
About 30 percent of the people seemed to remember the fake event, and sometimes even elaborated on how the event occurred or described what the event was like. (That's the "false memory" pie piece above, which is then broken down to show the extent of what they remembered to the right.)
Another 23 percent showed signs they accepted the fake memory on some level and believed that it really did happen, but not to the extent as those who fit into the "false memory" category.
"We know that many factors affect the creation of false beliefs and memories – such as asking a person to repeatedly imagine a fake event or to view photos to 'jog' their memory. But we don't fully understand how all these factors interact. Large-scale studies like our mega-analysis move us a little bit closer," Dr. Kimberley Wade, who worked on the study, told ScienceDaily.com.
Wade concluded that it's quite hard to determine when a person is remembering a real memory or something that didn't actually happen. That's pretty alarming for some professionals (like lawyers, doctors and psychologists) who rely on people's accounts of their own history.
In one particular case that's made recent news, four Chicago teens who were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in 1994 say the police coerced them into confessing. The four were released after DNA results proved their innocence, according to the Chicago tribune.
Now, their lawyers say they have an FBI report of a police officer admitting that the men were "fed information by Chicago Police and coerced into making false confessions," the paper said.