False Memory

False Memory



Did you ever have a clear memory of an event only to find that someone you were with at the event remembers it differently? Has anything like the following ever happened to you?

· You and your friend are reminiscing about a great party the two of you went to last year.

· Your friend says that the party took place outside, but you remember being inside the entire night.

· Your friend says that your hair was long, but you think that can’t be right since you have been growing out your hair since last year, so it must have been short.

· Your friend starts laughing as she reminds you that you fell asleep on the sofa and that the other guests then poked you and took pictures. At first you have no memory of this, but as your friend speaks, you start feeling embarrassed as you suddenly remember the sensation of being prodded in your sleep and the burst of camera flashes that night.

The truth is that the party was actually outside. You were remembering another party, which took place indoors. Your hair was only an inch shorter then than it is now, though you believe it has grown a lot more in the past year than it actually has. And your friend made up the whole story about you falling asleep, getting poked, and having your picture taken. In fact, you only had a Diet Coke that night, but your mind tricked you into thinking it actually occurred as she had said.

These are all examples of the different forms of memory distortion—a collection of phenomena that demonstrate how our long-term memories are not always permanent. In this ZAPS lab, your memory will be tested. Click on the Experience tab above to proceed.


As you learned in the Introduction, memory is far from perfect. In this ZAPS lab, we will do a memory experiment in which you will see that your own memory is not necessarily flawless.

After you click “Start Trial,” a series of 12 words will appear one-by-one on the screen. Then, you will be asked to select from a new list those words that you believe appeared in the original list. You may take as much time as you want to select your words. When you have completed your selections, click “Submit” to try another series of words. There are six series total.

After reading a list of 12 words, I will be asked to _______ .

·  select words on a new list that appeared in the original list

· write out all the words that appeared in the list

· arrange the words from the list alphabetically

· write a short story that uses as many words as possible from the list










Data Introduction

You may have noticed that many of the words within each list were conceptually related to each other—for example: bedrest, and awake. What you may not have noticed is that a centrally related word was absent from the initial list. For example, the word sleep did not actually appear in the initial list of sleep-related words. However, that centrally related word, called the critical lure, was present in the list of words to choose from.

In the Data tab we will show you whether you mistakenly remembered seeing the critical lure for each of the six word lists presented (highlighted in yellow), as well as how accurately you remembered seeing (or not) other words from the lists.

The graph shows the percentage of words you selected. The first column (“word shown”) shows the correctly selected words. These are words that you correctly identified as having been present in the original list. The second column (“word not shown, related”) shows whether you mistakenly remembered a highly related word (such as the lure) as having been presented in the list. The third column (“word not shown, unrelated”) shows whether you mistakenly remembered unrelated words as having been presented in the list.



Memories are imperfect; they can be forgotten or distorted. The purpose of this ZAPS lab experiment was to show how easily our minds can create false memories.

The task you completed comes from a test that researchers use to study memory illusions (Roediger & McDermott, 1995). Researchers find that participants generally recall seeing the critical lure with just as high a frequency as words that actually appear on the original list. Moreover, people report feeling very confident that they indeed saw the critical lure in the original list (Weber & Brewer, 2004). This is an important finding because it reminds us that the certainty with which someone states a claim cannot be used as a gauge for how truthful that claim is.

Because our memory is limited, we have to store the things we want to remember in an efficient way. One way to do this is to use a schema—a cognitive structure that helps us perceive, organize, process, and use information. For instance, you probably have a schema (a general knowledge structure) about what to expect when you enter an airport. You may also have event schemas (also known as scripts), such as for a birthday party: This might consist of the guests entering, unwrapping gifts, singing a birthday song, and eating cake. Our schemas help us navigate the world efficiently; without schemas, our world would be a very overwhelming place.

The words in this experiment were all meaningfully related to a relevant schema. The schema activation you experienced enabled you to create false memories by giving you enough information to make you believe that the lure word was also present. This type of memory distortion is referred to as suggestibility, which is defined as the development of false memories from misleading information.

One real-life application of the research on suggestibility and false memories is related to eyewitness testimony in court cases. Elizabeth Loftus has conducted a series of classic experiments showing that information presented after someone has witnessed a crime or an accident can overwrite the accuracy of the original memory.

For instance, in 1974, Loftus and Palmer conducted a classic study in which they asked undergraduates to watch a short film clip of a car accident. They then queried the students about their memory of the film clip. One of the questions was, “How fast was the car going when it HIT the other car?” The other question was, “How fast was the car going when it SMASHED the other car?” Although both groups had seen the same accident on film, not only did the smashedgroup give a higher miles-per-hour (mph) estimate, they were also more likely to misremember having seen broken glass when asked about the film a week later.

Loftus claimed that post-event information led to suggestibility. Seeing the word smashed on the initial questionnaire influenced people to think that the accident was more severe, thus leading to higher mph ratings, and a tendency to remember broken glass (even though there had not been any). Research has also found that we tend to be most easily misled by facts that are consistent with our schema for an event; it should be easier to convince people that they (mistakenly) saw broken glass after an accident than that they saw a clown get out of one of the cars. This is another type of memory error known as memory bias, which is defined as the changing of memories to fit current beliefs or attitudes.

A third type of memory distortion may also cause some participants to remember broken glass. If a participant had seen a car crash with broken glass in her past, she might mistakenly apply this memory to the car crash that Loftus showed her. By misremembering the time and place that she saw the broken glass, the participant would be experiencing source misattribution. Source misattribution can happen with the time, place, people, or circumstances involved with a memory.

What were your reactions to your personal data from this ZAPS lab and to the data of your classmates? What, if anything, surprised you?


You will initially receive full credit for any answer, but your instructor may review your response later.

Submit Answer

See if you are able to identify an example from your own life where your memory of an event seems to differ from somebody else’s memory of the same event. For example, you and a parent remember a family event differently. Or you and a friend might have different recollections about a social outing.


You will initially receive full credit for any answer, but your instructor may review your response later.

Submit Answer



Answer the following questions to complete this ZAPS activity. Your performance in this section accounts for 10% of your grade.

Which of the following is a key finding from research using memory tests like the one in this ZAPS lab?

· Memory, although not perfect, is generally highly reliable.

·  People believe the lure word was present in the list just as frequently as other words that actually did appear in the list.

· People very accurately remember the content of word lists.

· People rarely feel confident in their assessments of whether lure words appeared on the original lists.

A cross-country driver decides to eat at a local restaurant she has never heard of. She walks in and sees a counter that contains cash register machines; a menu hangs above the counter. Behind the counter, employees wearing headsets and paper hats hustle to and fro, pulling food from a service window and placing it onto trays. These images will most likely trigger a ________ that will lead the traveler to believe she should ________ .

· semantic association; order at the counter and then seat herself

· semantic association; wait by the door until a host shows her to her seat where a waiter will take her order

·  schema; order at the counter and then seat herself

· schema; wait by the door until a host shows her to her seat where a waiter will take her order


My summery for this experiment is:

My results were very close to the reference results present in the document. First, brains work more or less the same. It is only a handful of individuals who can can remember everything just as it was. However, for the rest of people have to repeated go through the piece of information several times so that everything could be retained by the brain. Even then, with time, the information starts to fade away. This can be demonstrated by the fact that a song can be learned but after a few years, some of the verses will be forgotten. Just as it was stated, critical lures are important when it comes to remembering things. Creation of false memory was also noted where I thought I saw things in the first lists that were actually not there. Having a limited space in our brains causes a creation of a schema. It is method that the brain uses to structure information so that perception, organization and using of the information is easy. The other name for schema is script. It how event unfold in mind or are anticipated by the person. It is the most efficient way of brain working. There is the phenomenon where the words are suggested in brain to make someone believe there were words that were related. This is called suggestibility. It how the false memories that has information that is misleading to the person.

Suggestibility is what makes people say they saw things when testifying that were not actually there. However, this is understandable because with time some of the information in the mind keep of fading and to replace that one, the mind creates false schema. It is therefore important to keep records of videos and sounds of any information that has been presented since some cases take even up to ten years before they are concluded.

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