False memory is distortion of an individual’s memory which in turn makes an individual to recall the past in a different or non-existent way. Investigations have established that, under the right conditions, it is possible for an individual to develop an elaborate and confident false memory. Some people, studies have established, can have their memories easily modified when they are fed with the wrong information. Integration of an individual’s real memories and other people’s ideas and suggestions, in particular, has been linked to the development a false memory (Loftus, 1997).
To illustrate how a false memory can lead to memory distortion, we examine the results of a study carried out by Lofters and a group of students in an article, in the 'Scientific American' magazine. In the study, they identified 24 subjects whom they intended to plant false memories of a non-existent event (1997). These individuals, in the age bracket of 18 and 53, were asked to try and remember a childhood event that was narrated to them by their respective parents or a close relative (Loftus, 1997). The false event that was created in the study described a scenario whereby the respective individuals were taken out for shopping by either a parent or a close relative. It is in a shopping mall that the respective individuals disappear.
What followed was a long period of crying, help and relief from an old woman and later a family reunion. In their response, the individuals who were the subjects of this report were to write what they remembered about the events or indicate they did not remember if that was the case. Interestingly, these individuals indicated that they could recall 49 of the 72 events which, in fact, were false (Loftus, 1997). In the first and second follow-up interviews, 29 percent and 25 percent respectively continued to maintain that they could recall the imaginary event (Loftus, 1997).
Inflated imagination is the act of an individual’s engagement with an act of imagining a fictitious event which leads to the creation of a false memory (Myers, 2011). One possible explanation of inflated imagination is an external suggestion. This is illustrated by an example of a study by Hyman in Loft’s article. In the study, a false event of an accidental spill of food on a bride’s parents at a wedding reception was created. While none of the participants recalled about the event during the first interview, a substantial 18 percent recalled the events in the second interview and an overwhelming 25 per cent in the third. Inflated imagination, therefore, arises from recurrent imagination, which increases familiarity, with the false event and eventually leads to the formation of a false event (Loftus, 1997).
Sometimes back, my elder brother happened to distort my memory by narrating to me how I dominated kids of my age during my childhood days simply because I owned a toy gun. He retold me this story every time we were walking together and happened to come across a kid with a toy gun. This made me believe his story, and at some point even imagined myself trying to shoot at other kids with the toy gun. I came to learn it was a false story through his revelation that toy guns were a recent kids’ fad. As such, it did not exist in my childhood days. The story did not have any negative or positive impact to me but, in the future, I decided I should be keener to details on an issue.
In my own thinking, the chances of occurrence of a false memory can be minimized by avoiding questions and suggestions that can lead to the creation of the same. In this regard, professional like the psychologists and criminal investigators should be keen when trying to obtain secret information because their respective intervention in the line of duty can lead to the creation of false memory. This process has a potential to produce, far-reaching implications in either case.