experimentally induced false memory

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Any repeatable technique for generating false memories, especially a procedure first reported in 1959 by the US psychologist James Earle Deese (1921–99) in an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Deese constructed several lists of 12 words, each list consisting of the most common word-association test responses to a critical word that was not included in the list, a typical example being the critical word needle, from which Deese constructed the list thread, pin, eye, sewing, sharp, point, pricked, thimble, haystack, pain, hurt, injection. Experimental participants studied each list, and then tried to recall the words contained in it, and on some of the lists (including the needle list) many participants falsely recalled the critical word as having been included in the list, though on other lists they did not—for example, on the butterfly list (moth, cocoon, and so on), not a single participant falsely recalled the critical word. In an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition in 1995, the US psychologists Henry L(ederer) Roediger III (born 1947) and Kathleen B(lyth) McDermott (born 1968) replicated and extended Deese's neglected experiment using published word-association norms. Their results revealed that on immediate free recall tests, the missing critical words were falsely recalled by 40 per cent of participants, and in a subsequent experiment with 15-word lists, the rate of false recall rose to 55 per cent. This experimental procedure creates a powerful cognitive illusion, causing people to believe that they can remember experiences that did not occur. See also eyewitness misinformation effect.

Subjects: Psychology.

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