Researchers are finding out more and more that what we think we remember and what actually took place may not be accurate. A growing number of neuroscientists are beginning to believe that false memories can be changed and influenced by others. Now some are beginning to believe that all it may take is a bit of social pressure to create these false memories.
A study conducted by neurobiology department at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel (and published in Science) reveals “a unique patter of brain activity when false memories are formed – one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.”
The experiment took place in four stages. In the first stage, volunteers were separated into small groups and asked to watch a documentary film. Days later they returned to the laboratory separately to take a memory test about the film and their confidence in how much they remembered about it. They were invited back at another date to take a functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) scan that showed their brain activity. At this time they were given, what they believed to be, the answers others in their viewing group had given to the questions, along with social-media-style photos.
False answers were planted for those the volunteers had previously answered correctly and with confidence. What the scientists found was that the “planted” information replaced their memories nearly 70% of the time. The question was then, did the false information replace the memory, or were they simply conforming to the social demand of what the others saw?
In order to find the answer the volunteers were invited back to take the memory test once again with the fMRI, telling them the answers they had been shown were not from their fellow volunteers but randomly computer generated. Some of the subjects returned to their original and correct answer, but nearly half of them had taken the planted information and replaced that in their memory as being fact.
When the data from the fMRI was evaluated the researchers found differences in brain activity between those who kept the false information and errors of social compliance. Most outstanding from the false memories was a “strong co-activation and connectivity between two brain areas called the hippocampus and the amygdala.”
The hippocampus is associated with the formation of long-term memory, while the amygdala, also often known as the emotion center of the brain, plays a role in social interaction. The researchers believe the amygdala may actually act as a gateway between the social and memory processing parts of our brain. What they believe is that the amygdala may have to give permission for some types of memory to be uploaded to the memory banks. If that is so, then social pressure to conform could act on the amygdala to persuade our brains to replace a strong true memory with a false one.
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
The Jerusalem Post — Social pressure can implant false memories: http://www.jpost.com/Health/Article.aspx?id=230677