False memories in their life although most or all

False Memories

A false memory is the name given to memories that are tainted with
misinformation or that do not exist. Everyone has recalled false memories in
their life although most or all persons do not even realize it. “Several
studies have been conducted on human memory and on subjects’ propensity to
remember erroneously events and details that did not occur…the results
indicated that subjects remembered seeing the false image” (Engelhardt, 1999
p.25 vol.1:1). When a person places the ideas of perception, emotion, and
visual/auditory senses on the same plate of attention and detail; it makes
perfect sense why a human being’s memory has been diluted with misinformation
causing false memories. The author will discuss a false memory experiment;
distracters of said experiment; incidents of false memory; and how false
memories affect the legal system.

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In regards to false memory experiments there are variables called
distracters. The type of experiment that will be discussed specifically is the
COG LAB False Memory Test (Wadsworth Cognitive Psychology Online Laboratory). “The
independent variable in this experiment was the type of word presented at test:
(1) on list, (2) unrelated distracter, and (3) related distracter. The
dependent variable was the percentage of each type of item recalled” (Wadsworth
Cognitive Psychology Online Laboratory, 2011. Results page.). In this
experiment there is a related distracter which is a word that can be related to
or associated with the distracter. For example, the list would show the word candy,
then show related distraters such as: sweet; sticky; and sugar. There were also
unrelated distracter words which are not related to or associated with the
distracter. For example, the same list would also show unrelated distracters
such as: cold; sharp; and cloud. The prediction behind this test using these
distracters is “People should recall the related distracters very often. The
idea is that many of the words presented are related to the distracter, and
most likely you thought about the distracter item as the words were being
shown. At test, you have a memory of thinking about the word, but thought this
was because it was presented rather than realizing you had just thought about
the word” (Wadsworth Cognitive Psychology Online Laboratory, 2011. Results
page.).The author reported seeing 90% of the original list, 6% of the normal
distracter, and a whopping 66.6% of the special distracter (not in the list). The
studies behind false memory are very robust. By only viewing a list of related
and unrelated words the author “saw” 66.6% of words that were not on the list.
Imagine how this affects a person’s day to day memories. Then when emotion,
perception and attention are mixed with this result; a person has a completely
distorted view and remembrance of a situation or event. This would be an
example of other special distracters that enter the experiment. Top-down
cognition could basically be the culprit of carrying around all these
distracters. This brings us to the next section of the essay.

A good example of a false memory is: a person is at the doctor
office and remembers that the doctor was wearing a stethoscope around his neck,
but later found out that the doctor does not use a stethoscope because he is
hearing impaired. What could have caused this person to remember seeing the
doctor with this item around his neck? There are many reasons why this person
is remembering this image of the doctor. The person could basically be
stereotyping his memory with the idea that most doctors carry a stethoscope and
out of convenience it was around the doctor’s neck. This is a perfect example
of top-down processing making its way into a memory. Another reason a person
might remember seeing this item is because they did actually see a stethoscope
around a neck, it just wasn’t around the doctor’s neck. If the nurse had a
stethoscope and walked in the room at the same time to take vital signs while
the doctor is speaking; due to inattention a person might remember the
stethoscope being used, a doctor talking to them and mesh it together to make
the false memory. Lastly, the memory could be the result of seeing something
around the doctor’s neck and simply assuming it is a stethoscope. For example,
the person may have had a very brief meeting with the doctor and in that time
noticed something black around his neck, but hidden by his lab coat. The person
then assumes what it is and “fills in the gaps”. Although the item was never
actually seen and it was a black name tag badge, the memory was made and this
is what the person would remember.

Now that false memories and the role that distracters play in
creating them have been discussed we will move on to the fact that eyewitness
testimony is used daily in the justice system to provide information on the
accused or situation at hand and how the study of false memories fits into this
practice. The problem with eye witness testimony is that is it rarely accurate.
“Accuracy of recollection decreases at a geometric rate rather than arithmetic
rate (so passage of time has a highly distorting effect on recollection);
accuracy of recollection is not highly correlated with the recollector’s
confidence; and memory is highly suggestible … and having been ‘reminded’ may
thereafter hold the false recollection as tenaciously as they would hold a true
one” (Engelhardt, 1999 p.26 vol.1:1). Many studies suggest that not only can a
person be persuaded to remember certain events, but a person can completely
alter a memory of their own with no third party assistance. Memory is affected
by retelling and tailoring a memory to fit the story teller’s purpose. Meaning
that, a person rarely tells a memory or a story just to tell it. There is
usually a reason or purpose behind the retelling. Unless a person retells a
story in an absolutely neutral fashion; the memory will be altered by simply
talking about it. Once a person has altered the memory it is then remembered in
the form it is was altered to. You can see that after many years recollection
is affected and the story had probably been altered; causing a false memory.

Because of the idea that a person rarely tells a story in neutral
fashion, this automatically biases an eyewitness account. Not only do we depend
on an eyewitnesses account but as humans we believe that if a person is ‘sure’
of the account that makes it more dependable. However, witness confidence is
often higher for an incorrect memory than for a correct memory (Engelhardt,
1999). Unfortunately even with research and empirical evidence, eyewitness
testimony is still highly regarded.

The author believes that eyewitness testimony should carry weight
in a criminal trial, however not to the extent of being able to incriminate a
person without physical evidence. Without eyewitness testimony, many criminals
would escape the justice system. It is usually only by eyewitness account that
an investigation does not halt at the scene. But to be able to use eyewitness
testimony solely as the proof to incriminate a person is absurd. The justice
system has checks and balances in place to make sure that unfair or untrue
information does not penetrate the court hearings, and because of that the
author believes that at this point in time there is no need for changing the
method of using eyewitness accounts in criminal proceedings. It is a necessary
evil one could say. We the people have the right to trial by jury, freedom of
speech and fair treatment. This means that a person who is believed to have pertinent
eyewitness evidence is allowed or even forced to provide the information, and
then it would be up to a jury of peers to decide the accuracy and importance of
the information.

In conclusion, false memories are tainted or completely fabricated
memories, which are formed through special distracters. These distracters are
(but not limited to): emotion, perception, attention, and top-down
cognition.  Although much research proves
that eyewitness account is inaccurate and should not be used to incriminate a
person, it is the right and duty of the public to provide and accept this
information. Though most memories are in some fashion a false memory; they are
still memories and as human beings we believe what we see even by the mind’s
eye.