Category Archives: False memories

True and False Memories – a new paper

No time to blog properly, but just wanted to draw your attention to a new paper (download via SSRN) on separating true from false memories. Here’s the abstract:

Many people believe that emotional memories (including those that arise in therapy) are particularly likely to represent true events because of their emotional content. But is emotional content a reliable indicator of memory accuracy? The current research assessed the emotional content of participants’ pre-existing (true) and manipulated (false) memories for childhood events. False memories for one of three emotional childhood events were planted using a suggestive manipulation and then compared, a long several subjective dimensions, with other participants’ true memories. On most emotional dimensions (e.g., how emotional was this event for you?), true and false memories were indistinguishable. On a few measures (e.g., intensity of feelings at the time of the event), true memories were more emotional than false memories in the aggregate, yet true and false memories were equally likely to be rated as uniformly emotional. These results suggest that even substantial emotional content may not reliably indicate memory accuracy.


Hat tip to the ever-interesting Neuroethics and Law Blog.

Quick round up of deception news

Sorry for the slow posting recently – real life is getting in the way of blogging at the moment., and is likely to continue to do so for some time yet, so please bear with me. Perhaps some of these items will give you your deception research fix in the meantime.

If you’d like something to listen to during the daily commute why not download an interview with John F. Sullivan, author of Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner (h/t Antipolygraph Blog).

Alternatively, try a short NPR Morning Edition segment on the neuropsychology of lying (h/t and see also The Frontal Cortex).

The ever-interesting BPS Research Digest discusses a study of how toddlers tell a joke from a mistake. According to the researchers, Elena Hoicka and Merideth Gattis:

…the ability to recognise humorous intent comes after the ability to recognise jokes, but before the ability to recognise pretense and lies. “We propose that humour understanding is an important step toward understanding that human actions can be intentional not just when actions are right, but even when they are wrong,” they concluded.

Karen Franklin has a terrific commentary on the Wall Street Journal’s discussion of a subscale of the MMPI, which claims to detect malingerers but which, according to critics, results in a large number of false positives (i.e., labelling truthful test-takers as malingerers). (See also a short commentary by Steven Erikson).

There are two articles by Jeremy Dean of the glorious PsyBlog on false memories (here and here).

And finally, Kai Chang at Overcoming Bias reports on an unusual teaching technique which involves asking students to spot the Lie of the Day.

Studying False Memories – debate in Consciousness and Cognition

The scientific study of “false memories” is the topic of Kathy Pezdek and Shirley Lam’s target article in the latest edition of Consciousness and Cognition. Pezdek and Lam reviewed 198 recent studies listed in PsycINFO with the subject heading “false memory”. They argue that despite the apparent plethora of articles, “few researchers […] have studied false memory as the term was originally intended—to specifically refer to planting memory for an entirely new event that was never experienced in an individual’s lifetime”. One of Pezdek and Lam’s key points is that “flawed memories and false memories are not the same thing, nor are identical cognitive processes likely to underlie the two”, and they argue that researchers have tended to conflate the two concepts. They further suggest that this has lead to the misapplication of false memory research to real world situations.

Kimberley Wade and six co-authors (including the most famous false memory researcher, Elizabeth Loftus), reply, addressing Pezdek and Lam’s criticisms in turn. They acknowledge that using the separate terms flawed and false memories is superficially attractive, but argue that in practice it would be difficult to sustain the distinction. Wade et al. conclude that “several types of false memory research have advanced our knowledge of autobiographical and recovered memories, and that future research will continue to make significant contributions to how we understand memory and memory errors”.

Pezdek gets a chance to reply to Wade et al.’s critique, and uses it to reiterate her contention that the use of the single term false memory research “to describe two apparently different phenomena” has led “both scientists and laypeople […] to erroneously conclude that they can generalize the research from one domain to the other”. In particular, Pezdek points out that most laypeople “assume that the term false memories refers to false memories for child sexual abuse”.

References (follow the links for abstracts and access to full text articles):