Literature review essay on False Memory

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False memory is defined as a scenario in which an individual recalls events that did not occur in reality. This phenomenon is a regular occurrence in a person's life, affecting both the victim's psyche and day-to-day existence. It may be defined as manufactured recollections of events that did not occur in one's life, particularly childhood experiences. These events are made up by the brain, and they appear to have occurred. According to others, the fundamental reason why the brain produces false memories is that there is always too much information being taken in. When one recalls an incident, the brain fills in the blanks. It is a psychological condition and at times cannot be avoided in one’s life. It is sometimes a result of curiosity and other events that have real implications.

This essay would review literature or work that has been done before on the issues of false memory.

First, Ackil& Zaragoza (2011) in work titled “Forced Fabrications versus Interviewer Suggestions,” they discovered that the different in false memory depends on the assessment of the recollections of an individual. This work claims that a witness, in any case, can have a false memory if the interviewer always suggests the information to them. A witness in a case in court or another place can develop the false memory if the situation they are in forces them to fabricate information to avoid some unknown consequences. Ackil& Zaragoza (2011) made this conclusion after conducting a study on incidences of false memory. If the information is suggested to those who are being interviewed, the chances are high that they will develop false memory as compared to those interviewed without information being hinted to them. The study also found that the dissociation between test type and suggestive interview explains that speculating negative consequences of the interview depends on the ways in which the memory is assessed. This means that false memory can be as a result of an event that an individual finds themselves in. (Ackil& Zaragoza, 2011). Witness that is subjected to suggestions usually fabricates false memory to give the expected information about the event. They would not like to contradict the information suggested to them and therefore they would develop a false memory and give a statement that is not the actual truth.

Similarly, a study by Ballard, Gallo,&de Wit (2012), asserts that various drugs such as psychoactive medicine can influence the episodic memory. They carried out research to evaluate the effects of two psychoactive drugs. The prescriptions used in this study had memory enhancing properties and another with memory-impairing properties. They tested the influence of these medications on false memory. The results of the study found that the drug with memory enhancing property affects false memory. These medicines affected the accurate recollection of the participants thereby improving chances of developing false memory.

The study shows that false memory can be created by the use of these drugs as they would affect the actual memory of a person. Psychoactive drugs usually affect the normal encoding process in individuals thereby resulting in false memory (Ballard, Gallo,&de Wit, 2012). It can be deduced from the study that any drug which was taken has effects on a person’s memory and would lead to the development of false memory.

Another work done titled “The Neuroscience of Memory: Implications for the Courtroom” by Lacy &Stark (2013), states that memories of violent events are well encoded in a person’s system and is indelible. The study maintained that memory is a reconstructive process and can be subjected to interruption. It also alleged that the memory distortion in a courtroom would result in severe consequences. This research study discusses how ignorance of law forces judges to make biased decisions based on false memory, and these negatively impact the legal system.

Further this work claims that the memory of a human being is not like a video camera. Brain changes with time and either deletes or add information based on circumstances and thus ability to remember events and information can be distorted. The memory of a human being can get distorted during encoding, perception, and storage or retrieval process (Lacy &Stark, 2013). One of the ways of memory distortion is the post-identification response. In the process of identification, memory is enhanced if the reaction of recognition procedure by law enforcement officer is positive. The comments of authorities are always taken into account by witnesses in making an estimate of the accuracy of event that occurred. This is because they are seen as authorities and that they are right most of the time. Another memory distortion process is the misinformation effect. It can be through the wrong wording of the question. Additionally, memory can be distorted by merely passing of time (Lacy &Stark, 2013). This means when people cannot clearly remember a past event, they would create some stories about it based on the little they can collect on what happened during that particular time.

Moreover, the study also found that leading questions can cause false memory, especially how lawyers usually ask questions in a courtroom. This study was mainly focused on the events of a courtroom and how false memory can cause severe consequences for innocent people in a court case (Lacy &Stark, 2013). Some can end up being jailed whereas they are not guilty as alleged, but it is the false memory that has been used to give false information about the situation, and they could not challenge it.

Pitarque, Melendez, & Algarabel (2015) also did a study on false memory focusing on the older people. It was discovered that older people tend to have false memory especially when there is similarity of events. This is because of the familiarity with events. The issue is different with the young people. The cognitive activities of the older people are reducing with time, and they cannot remember events well. This makes them have a recollection of what did not happen.

This work also shows that memory distortion occurs with time. Older people perhaps have seen more events in life than young ones, and this makes them not to have a good recollection of information concerning some event (Pitarque, Melendez,&Algarabel, 2015). They would develop false memory as their mind fills the gaps about events that they cannot remember well.

Consequently, negative emotions are found to reduce false memory. Those with negative emotions seemed to remember almost everything that occurred in their lives at the time they had negative feelings or emotions. According to Storbeck (2013), a negative emotional cue promotes encoding of item-specific information and thus reduces false memory in individuals. People that have positive and negative emotions usually encode events differently and thus create a different memory of the events. Those with negative emotions often pay attention to what is going on in their environment and thus they would take their time to follow events step by step as their brain records this information (Storbeck, 2013). This makes it difficult for them to develop the false memory of the event later. Negative emotions boost encoding process in the brain thus reduces forgetfulness.

What is more, a study by Zhu et al. (2012) stated that, if one is exposed to brief half-truths, the chances are that they would develop false memory. This exposure to false information can make one to have a long lasting false memory. The study targeted class three participants where they were given some misleading information and then tested on memory. The misinformation led to a significant level of false memory (Zhu et al. 2012). When the event was repeated the year later, the false memory still existed. This demonstrates that subjecting people to some misleading information results to a longer lasting false memory on them.

In conclusion, false memory is not a disease but a psychological situation that is created by various events in life. There is no specific cause of false memory but various events that altered their encoding process might lead to false memory. However, overuse of some stimulant drugs and alcohol are said to alter the normal functioning of the brain and thus most likely causes false recall. But this information has not been verified by studies.


Ackil, J.K., & Zaragoza, M.S. (2011).Forced Fabrication Versus Interviewer Suggestions:

Differences in False Memory Depend on How Memory is Assessed. Appl. Cognit.

Psychol., 25, 933–942. doi: 10.1002/acp.1785.

Ballard, M.E., &Gallo, D. A., &de Wit, H. (2012).Psychoactive drugs and false memory:

comparisonofdextroamphetamine and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on false recognition. Psychopharmacology, 219,15–24. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2374-5.

Lacy, J.W., &Stark, C.E. L. (2013).The Neuroscience of Memory: Implications for the

Courtroom.Nat Rev Neurosci., 14(9), 649–658. doi:10.1038/nrn3563.

Pitarque, A., Sales, A., Melendez, J. C. &Algarabel, S. (2015). Repetition increases false

recollection in older people. Scandinavian Journal ofPsychology, 56, 38–44.doi: 10.1111/sjop.12168.

Storbeck, J. (2013).Negative affect promotes encoding of and memory for details at the expense

of the gist: Affect, encoding, and false memories. Cognition and Emotion, 27(5), 800-819.

Zhu, B. et al. (2012).Brief Exposure to Misinformation Can Lead to Long-Term False

Memories.Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 301–307.doi: 10.1002/acp.1825.

October 07, 2021




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