Category Archives: Memory

Science, Misinformation, and Make-Believe Memories

In what is known about memory, our memories serve a purpose of enabling people to make sense of the past and incorporate it into the present experience of life.  This importance of memories according to Loftus (2003) explains that people are the sum of our memories: what we have thought, what we are told, and what we believe.  In addition, we are not only shaped by our memories, but existence is shaped by our personal experience.  Loftus argues that we “seem to reinvent our memories, and in doing so, we become the person of our own imagination”  (p. 872).

An important distinction made about the power of suggestion upon initial memory of an event and how memory that is manipulated impacts beliefs formed about events.  Information offered by Elizabeth Loftus in, Make-Believe Memories, advocates that memories are malleable and subject to distortion and suggestion.  The following observations about how memory is influenced through eyewitness accounts of crimes:

“Misinformation can influence people’s memories when they are in a suggestive fashion or when they talk to other people who give their version of events. Misinformation can sway people when they see biased media coverage about some event that they may have experienced themselves. This phenomenon would ultimately be called the misinformation effect [Loftus’ italics]” (p. 868).

An apparent assumption about initial memory of an event is that it is influenced by suggestion and post-memory influences, but also by the weight of said influences upon the person holding the memory.  A good place to begin in an understanding what misinformation effect actually means.

A dictionary description of the misinformation effect given in the APA Dictionary of Psychology (2007) states, “a phenomenon in which a person mistakenly recalls misleading information that an experimenter has provided, instead of accurately recalling the correct information that has been presented earlier (VandenBos, 2007).  This theory often used in connection with eyewitness memory of events in the investigation procedure.  Loftus cites a cause and effect relationship between what is presented to witnesses to a crime responses to questions asked i.e., “Research on memory distortion has shown that post event suggestion can contaminate what a person remembers” (p. 867).  As a result, a fair assumption about recall of a crime or incident is that the further removed a witness is from the incident and the more times it is discussed the greater chance there is that misinformation effect jades original memories of the event and details.

The position of this article presents the opinion that memory can be distorted by interjecting information and by using techniques which may be misleading to distort original memory.  What can be learned is that misinformation exerts an influence upon what may have been sensed, experienced, and stored in the memory at the time of an event.  The inference is that memories can be altered or changed in intentional and unintentional ways i.e., “Misinformation can influence people’s memories when they are in a suggestive fashion or when they talk to other people who give their version of events”, as cited in (u04d2 Make-Believe Memories, 2010).  A rational conclusion suggests that changes in memories are connected to the suggestions made by the examiner and suggestibility of the person remembering the account.  As a result, an explanation of the misinformation effect contained within the statement made through: post event suggestion (Loftus, 2003) which alters original memory that is stored as suggestion, as well as exposure to other perspectives about the memory-event places influence upon perception.

One important factor in the process is described by Sternberg (2009), as encoding (p. 217). Based on this description, how a memory is encoded –one’s experience, conditions surrounding an event –factors contributing to retrieval, will affect acquisition of information: “the physical, sensory input into a kind of representation” (p. 217) which distorts original sensory input.  Therefore, the misinformation effect suggests that, “suggestion can lead to false memories being injected outright into the minds of people” (Loftus, 2003).

When questions are asked that are suggestive,  false memories are injected into the first impressions of the person being questioned.  Loftus (2003) reports, “that leading questions could contaminate or distort a witness’s memory … Related studies showed that memory could become skewed with various techniques that fed misinformation to unsuspecting individuals” (Make-believe memories).  This practice is associated with techniques which are used in police-witness interviews to a crime.  For example, “Three errors occurred universally: interrupting the witness, asking too many short-answer questions, and inappropriate sequencing of questions” (Fisher, 1995).  A conclusion can be made here that demonstrates that when rehearsal of the memory is interspersed with the injection of questions, interruptions, dialogue, and questions, the initial sensory perception will become adapted to misinformation that affects perception of the original occurrence.

It may seem on the surface that the misinformation effect presents a negative perspective of how memory can be manipulated and the impact upon a criminal investigation.   However, one application of this theory may be of value when applied to research, which could aid in better training for law enforcement professional when conducting witness interviews.  In addition, another application could be that when misinformation is used to correct distorted memories, it may hold properties of value, which present a therapeutic value.  Some examples could be in treatment with those who have experienced traumatic events that present with PTSD symptoms or anxiety related conditions.

Obviously, this article only scratches the surface and more needs to be written on such an important subject of interest.


Fisher, R. P. (1995). Interviewing victims and witnesses of a crime. Psychology, Public Policy,  Law [electronic version] , 1 (4), 732-764, doi:10.1037/1076-8971.1.4.732.

Loftus, E. F. (2003, November). Make-believe memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied [electronic version] , 14 (3), pp. 255-265,, doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.14.3.255.

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive Psychology (5th Edition ed.). Belmont, California, USA: Wadsworth, Cenage Learning.

u04d2 Make-Believe Memories. (2010). Retrieved 5 2009, August , from Capella Universisty:

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC, USA: American Psychological Association.

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Science, Philosophy, Reason, and Life Without Memory

Watching this video is a very sobering look at the way that what the memory provides to an individual in the everyday activities is taken for granted and that without a functioning memory there is no connection with the past, identity, and a conscious way of relating to the present activities of life or the future. A line from the film says it clearly, “I think it is a very dramatic illustration particularly for the public of what it is like to being without memory. For example, this constant feeling that he has just waken up or he has not tasted anything before” (The Anenburg Foundation, 2009). While the video, stimulated thoughts about the value of memory, there is also the thought about how many things could be different, if only some memories could be erased. However, a connection is implicit from the story that it is relative to every individual is and how functioning occurs in life within the environment.

One question which has already been discussed in previous posts in the connection between the brain and the mind. If consciousness and memory are functions of the brain, but also connected to the mind, then there is a relationship between the anatomical structure of the, how the mind operates, neurologically, function, and the wakening experience of awareness in behavior and response. The way that memory is encoded and retrieved forms an understanding of knowing, believing, and behaving. Sternberg (2009) says, “A memory is a mental experience taken to be veridical (truthful) representation from one’s past.  Memories can be false in relatively minor ways … and in major ways that can have profound implications for oneself and others” (p. 198).  In the case of Wearing’s condition, the damage to the brain through Encephalitis affected not only the encoding, but also the ability to recall because of the damage to the Hippo-campus. This raises another observation about the impact of chemical, biological affects to the brain, mind functioning.

It has been established that Teratogens, (Friedman J.M., 1999), affect development of the brain, and also how the introduction of disease destroys tissue, thus disabling explicit memory (Sternberg, 2009, p. 180) from engaging the mind in an experience of conscious recollection (p. 180). A question might be posed about the difference in the absence of explicit memory in contrast to implicit use of information (p. 180). This is discussed in the dialogue by Dr. Michael Oddy who stated, “We ask him if he would like the coffee … But it is all about current events, it is about the surroundings (The Anenburg Foundation, 2009). The events seem to suggest that there is not a reference to past experiences that could have been encoded and recalled, but rather knowing through cognition of present observations in the moment.

The traditional model of memory referred to by Sternberg (2009), in William James (1890-1970) theory of primary memory and secondary memory; then later Waugh and Norman, 1965 (p. 182) give explanation of the components and functions of the memory that are not in tact as a result of disease which destroyed brain tissue. However, the theories as presented, do not adequately offer explanation of ingrained skill or the, “four or five things, he will if questioned appropriately tell you about” (The Anenburg Foundation, 2009). In analysis, it seems evident that one working model of memory does not provide a complete picture without gaining insight from a Neuropsychology model that examines how dissociation of function, “to explain a link between a particular lesion or function” (Sternberg, 2009, p. 207). It seems that there is a correlational relationship to all of the activities, biology, physical structures, or trauma to the brain which in turn affects what happens in conscious awareness that is connected to how perception occurs, what is understood and believed, and what the experience of the life is in feeling and behavior.   How important is this to advancing understanding in the study of psychology?

It cannot be underscored enough that understanding what has been written and engaging with current and future research will build a bridge from the encoded memory that has been described by theorist to provide ongoing and enriched understanding of how the functioning of memory in the mind-brain relationship is enhanced by the value of ongoing research in Cognitive Affective Psychology.


Friedman JM, a. J. (1999). Clinical Teratology: identifying teratogenic risks in humans. Retrieved October 21, 2009, from Capella Library:, doi:10.1034/j.1399-0004.1999.560601.xJans,
Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive Psychology (5th Edition ed.). Belmont, California, USA: Wadsworth, Cenage Learning.
The Anenburg Foundation. (2009). Life without memory: The case of Clive Wearing, Part 1. Washington, DC: Annenberg Media,, DC.

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