Normal false memories

Armin Schnider

in The Confabulating Mind

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206759
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754487 | DOI:
Normal false memories

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It has been established that false memories also occur in healthy people and are sometimes held with strong conviction. Even without explicit manipulation, memories for events may undergo significant transformation. Flashbulb memories – the memories for the circumstances in which one first learned of a personally engaging event – appear to be relatively protected from distortions, although modification of significant elements over time has been reported.

Falsifications of memory are of particular importance to eyewitness testimony. Suggestive questioning may modify the way in which memories are reported and may induce new distortions of memories. Weakly established memories are particularly vulnerable. Much research has shown that it is possible, and actually quite easy, to implant fictive elements into the record of an event and to manipulate the conviction subjects hold in their memories.

An analysis of eliciting circumstances suggests that normal false memories mainly result from normal physiological processes at encoding, processes associating the pieces of information constituting the memory of an event. There is no ostensible need to invoke defective processes during the retrieval of memories. Hence, normal false memories might have a different mechanism than pathological confabulations, which mostly reflect erroneous compositions of memories stored before the onset of brain disease.

Chapter.  4221 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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