What are false memories and why do we suffer from them?

Many times we had a fight with another person. The causes of a possible debate or discussion are endless, but it will be easy for the reader to identify with the argument to remember an event, event or conversation differently from another person. .

How can two people remember the same event so differently? Also, how can you not remember well or even come to remember things that never happened?

To answer these kinds of questions first you have to understand what false memories are, Why they appear and what are the brain processes that make them exist.

    The fallible operation of memory

    Memory is what we use to reach our memories, To repeat an action that led us to the desired result, locate us or take an exam. However, the difference between our memory and that of any machine is that we are constantly distorting these memories.

    We remember that we have a memory, but it was encoded at the time with a specific charge, sensations and emotions, a cognitive state, previous experiences and a context. By accessing it, we can remember, and perhaps access, a residue of the emotion being felt at that particular moment; we access a transcript, however the state we are in when recalling is not the same.

    The previous experiences are not the same either, since over time they continue to increase, which leads us to have an image of the past seen from the present, With its consequent interference. Likewise, we can contaminate any event that occurs in the present, if it has been imagined many times before.

    By expectations, whether given by inference from previous situations or by simple personal desire, we condition the experience (and therefore the memory) of the present event, because these expectations are also a memory (for example: I remember wishing everything would go perfectly that day) and they are a consolidated pseudo-learning, that is, something to be expected.

    In such a situation, a fact with little negative valence can be interpreted as a big problem, or in the reverse situation, a fact with little positive valence can be interpreted as something extraordinary. So this way this distortion remains encoded in memory, By the imagination which actively models reality.

    The link between memory and imagination

    Clearly explaining the distortion to which we subject our memory and the interference that the future imagination may have in its subsequent interpretation, it seems reasonable to believe that by changing the direction in which this imagination normally operates (forward) and towards the rear, it can still distort. our memory, even creating memories of an event that never existed. This is the basis of false memories.

    There are, in fact, studies where the possibility that memory and imagination share a neural network has been investigated.

    Areas of the brain activated during memorization and imagination

    In research conducted by Okuda et al, (2003). the role of two brain structures, the frontal polar zone and the temporal lobes (which are all involved in future and past thinking), has been investigated through the use of positron emission tomography (PET). Regional cerebral blood flow (Rcbf) was also measured in healthy subjects when talking about their future prospects or past experiences.

    Most areas in the medial temporal lobes showed an equivalent level of activation during the tasks related to imagining the future and tasks related to communication of the past.

    In a similar vein, in another study, participants were asked to imagine a future event and remember a past event for 20 seconds with a specific backward or forward projection. Although some differences were found, such as increased activation of the right hippocampus when imagining future events (a problem that the authors say could be due to the novelty of the event) and a greater activation of the prefrontal areas involved in planning, the similarities were abundant. .

    These results are consistent with those found in patients with amnesia., Who in addition to not being able to access memories of past episodes, could not project themselves into a vision of the future.

    An example that can be consulted through scientific databases is that reported by Klein, Loftus and Kihlstrom, JF (2002) in which a patient with amnesia, with the same type of injury and with the same problem as those cited above . Interestingly, he only suffered from this deficit to imagine the future and remember the past episodically, Being able to imagine possible future events in the public domain, such as political events, who would win elections, etc. This connects memory and imagination, but also gives it an important nuance, in its episodic form.

    Classic experience for false memories

    An example of a classic experiment in the field of false memories is, for example, that carried out by Garry, Manning and Loftus (1996). In it, participants were invited to imagine a series of events presented to them. They were then asked to judge to what extent they believed this had not happened to them at some point in their lives (in the past).

    After some time, in a second session, participants were asked to repeat the experiment and reassign the probabilities. Interesting way, the fact that they had imagined it made them assign lower probabilities to his conviction that he had not experienced this event. This is an example of how memories are distorted.

      Why is it important to understand what a false memory is?

      The importance of this data goes beyond the anecdote (or not so anecdotal) of a discussion or the “who said what?”. For example, an aspect on which much work has been done in forensic psychology relatively recently has been differentiate a real declaration from a declaration contaminated with false information or distorted that was suggested to the declarant.

      Popular wisdom has it that if someone explains something that did not happen or reports it in a way that does not quite correspond to reality, it is because he wants to do it; you may have hidden motives or want to cheat on someone. With the results discussed earlier in this article, there is at least a reasonable doubt about this claim.

      Thus, research in this area suggests the most common sources of error. they are given by factors linked to the perception, to the interpretation of the factsInference, unprocessed information, the passage of time and post-event information received or imagined. These factors can cause the person to tell the truth (theirs) while still remembering something that did not happen.

      It is the job of psychologists, but also of anyone who wants to go beyond the first impression, to try to analyze these factors as much as possible. Whether you are going to explain or receive an explanation relevant to one or more parties, whether in a legal field or in everyday life, it is important to keep in mind that our memory is the result of a process. by which the lived facts pass and that this “stored” result, however, is not in a fixed and unalterable state.

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