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Scientists Implant and Then Reverse False Memories in People

The human mind is a fickle thing, it is easy to influence just by using the right techniques. That’s what these researchers have done. They have demonstrated how easy it is to trick the mind into believing or remembering something that did not happen. The techniques are simple and they are also simple to reverse. This demonstrates just how quickly our understanding of the human mind is increasing, though we are barely scratching the surface.

They published their findings in a research paper. The lead researcher Aileen Oeberst, head of the Department of Media Psychology at the University of Hagen, said that “The same way that you can suggest false memories, you can reverse them by giving people a different framing. It’s interesting, scary even.”

They went to say that memories are not recording of the past but could be said to be reconstructions of what we perceived to have happened. Closer to our imagination, and that people are illusioned to think that these memories are accurate. To prove this, Oeberst’s lab implanted false memories in 52 people using suggestions and interviewing techniques.

They had the participants’ parent’s come up with real childhood memories and put in two fake ones as well. Small events like they being lost in their childhood, a pet dying, or a toy breaking. After multiple sessions, results showed that 56% of the people started recollecting these false memories.

In order to reverse these false memories, the scientists used two sensitization techniques. One called source sensitization, in which they asked participants to accurately recall sources of their false memories. Two, false memory sensitization, in which they explain how sometimes people being pressured to recall something can make false memories appear.

This worked for most but not every participant believed their memories to be false. The memories did not completely disappear for them. A year later at most 75% of the participants were able to recognize which memories were false while some didn’t remember them at all.

You can view the original study here.