Memory distortion

Memory distortion is one of the psychological issues that have attracted great interest in the past decades. In Loftus (1997), the author reveals cases where hypnosis was used to cause memory distortion on patients, confirming occurrence of memory distortion. In this paper, we review a study conducted by Hyman, Husband & Billings (1995) to shed light on the nature of memory distortion. Controversies regarding memory distortion have prompted Hyman, Husband & Billings (1995) to conduct a survey on college students to investigate their susceptibility to memory distortion by creating false memories of childhood in response to misinformation.

The study involved 20 psychology students who were interviewed regarding true childhood experiences revealed by their parents, and false childhood experiences invented by the interviewers. Two experiments were conducted on the subjects, one where the interviewer asked them to recall childhood memories both true and false, and another where the interviewer asked them to recall the same memories but changed the age of the person when the experience occurred.

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Importantly, the study found that most of the participants fully or partially recalled the true experiences in both experiments conducted while none of them recalled the false experiences during the first interview. Likewise, the difference in age in the second experiment did not affect their memory recall. Nevertheless, when fed with misinformation during the second interview, 20 percent were claimed recalling something from the false experience. Notably, one participant recalled being in a hospital, which was totally a misinformation.

Another who denied the false experience in the initial interview recalled being a wedding disaster in the second interview, saying, “It was an outdoor wedding, and I think we were running around and knocked something over like the punch bowl or something and um made a big mess and of course got yelled at for it” (Hyman et. al, p. 191). This study gives light to the nature of memory distortion. Based on its findings, memory distortion occurs when people are fed with misinformation and they accept the misinformation as part of their original experience.

To note, memory distortion did not occur during the first interview as participants totally denied existence of false experiences. However, convinced that the false memory actually happened as it was reiterated in the second interview, participants succumbed to the misinformation, giving way to partial memory distortion. It should be considered that the misinformation allegedly originated from the parents, whom the participants know and trust. As such, the source of information and trust may have served as factors to the participants’ submission to the misinformation.

Another insight we could draw from this study is the susceptibility of even grown up people to memory distortion. The subjects who were college students were on the pre-adult stage when the experiments were conducted. This implies that for some people, age or maturity does not guarantee insusceptibility to memory distortion. References Hyman, I. , Husband, T. & Billings, F. J. (1995). False memories of childhood experiences. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 9, 181-197. Loftus, E. (1997). Creating false memories. Scientific American, 77(3), 70-75.


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