Wednesday, July 18, 2018

False Memories

Post 3  

            A false memory is “an apparent recollection of an event that did not actually occur” (“False Memories in Psychology: Formation & Definition”). Recalling past events requires a reconstructive process. People organize the recalling of previous events into what seems logical to them. The recollection of events always meets a person’s expectations. Recalled events are often false and hypnosis does not help memory recollection.  Studies have shown that a therapist can make people believe they had experiences they never had through dream analysis. In 1906, Hugo Münsterberg, the chair of the psychology laboratory at Harvard University and the president of the American Psychological Association, wrote in the Times Magazine about a false confession. “A woman had been found dead in Chicago, garroted with a copper wire and left in a barnyard, and the simpleminded farmer’s son who had discovered her body stood accused” (Starr). After police questioning, the farmer’s boy admitted to murder. Every time the boy repeated the tragic events, they grew more detailed.  It was “a clear instance of ‘the involuntary elaboration of a suggestion’ from his interrogators” (Starr). Münsterberg wrote to a Chicago nerve specialist about the case and it made the local paper. The boy was hanged a week later. In the early nineteen-nineties, American society was recuperating from another panic over occult influence; Satanists had replaced witches. One case, the McMartin Preschool trial, hinged on nine young victims’ memories of molestation and ritual abuse—memories that they had supposedly forgotten and then, after being interviewed, recovered. The case fell apart, in 1990, because the prosecution could produce no persuasive evidence of the victims’ claims. Elizabeth Loftus, cognitive psychologist, tested her theory of the power of suggestion. She implanted false childhood memories of being lost in the mall as a child. “By the second interview, six of the twenty-four test subjects had internalized the story, weaving in sensory and emotional details of their own” (Starr). When used wisely, suggestion can be an effective tool for good influence. On the other hand, suggestion can severely, mentally traumatize a person.

Works Cited

“False Memories in Psychology: Formation & Definition.”

Starr, Douglas. “Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit.” 2015,

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