How easy is it to falsify memory? As individuals, each and every one of us creates a narrative of our life, but is it necessarily true?
Recent research by the Weizmann Institute “shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed.” The study, being published in Science, shows a false memory formulates a unique pattern of brain activity when the false memories are formed. They argue that this research shows the correlation between our social self and our memory, and the co-active correlation between the amygdala and the hippocamus in the process.
The article is very interesting for its neurobiology, and the approach they took to looking at memory. But it’s not news that we as human beings can be highly responsive to those around us, and it’s this social conscious that formulates much of who we are as social people. It would be interesting to see this work duplicated in a different setting, such as the typical schoolroom, so that we can formulate what it is that helps students remember correctly, and why they remember something incorrectly, and if there is a cognitive technique that would help the struggling student. The brain is a machine and repetition is the default setting so in that respect it’s understandable why people repeat their mistakes including false memory. But, I also think that as social humans, we are individuals with a lot of personal context and over time attach more meaning to the memory that we do keep, and eventually discard altogether false memory or any memory we consider unimportant, in the same way that we discard so much of the daily bombardment from the world around us.
In class I referred to the idea of false memory- which is included in the memory used for dream-making. What this means is that our dreams are created from a fountain of images and emotions, and sometimes the dream process links them together, either accidentally or intentionally, and sometimes in a way that shocks us even while we’re in deep sleep- so much that it literally makes us sit up and ask why. Why did I dream that? What does it mean? And as Hobson writes, we then try to attach meaning to something that may only be an accidental link and without meaning. At which point a student reminded me of the psychologists who do regression work, and sometimes the recalled memories (from dreams or the therapy sessions) are used as testimony in trials. Is this reasonable, considering what’s at stake in a court?
Another valid point is how easy it is to plant “a seed” or a false memory into a person’s fountain of images, memory and emotions. Now that I’ve seen this research at the Weizmann Institute I wonder how many of the repressed memories that have been recovered by psychologists, replicate in full honesty the original event. Wouldn’t that be impossible? I’m curious now about devices used by the police department, such as lie detectors,( which are not always accurate either) and whether or not they can root out the false memory or does it only find that the person truly believes the memory is true even if it might indeed be false; which basically would back up the Weizmann research?