Remembering What Never Happened

What if you're most treasured memories from childhood were false? A shocking new study finds that one in five people fondly recall events that never actually happened.

When I was seven years old, my family and I had a black and grey cat named George Washington. I thought George was a boy, but then one day I came home from school to discover Mr Washington behind our foldaway bed/couch, giving birth to a litter of kittens. We gave away the kittens and George Washington left with a couple of them, but I'll never forget that cat.

According to everyone else in my family, that cat never existed.

For the longest time I would argue with my mother and siblings whenever the subject of pets came up. How could they not remember something I recalled so vividly? Eventually I had to acquiesce. It was all in my head.

Yet the memory remains and it's a strong one, through if you pressed me for more details on the animal other than that particular incident, I couldn't tell you anything. Over the years I've come to accept that the recollection, no matter how vivid it was, wasn't true.

Apparently I am not alone.

Psychologists at the University of Hull in England polled some 1600 students, asking them if they'd ever experienced a false memory.

One in five claimed they had.

One volunteer said they had memories of playing hockey, even though her parents and family members assure her that she's never hit a puck. Another remembered seeing a living dinosaur. As with my own case, even after the subjects accepted the experiences did not happen, the memories remain.

'Autobiographical memory provides us with a sense of identity and it is usually accurate enough to help us negotiate our lives,' said researcher Giuliana Mazzoni.'But as our study shows, not all that we remember about our past is true. Our research also shows that this phenomenon of non-believed memories is much more frequent than people had imagined. Crucially, if these memories are not challenged by some form of evidence, they would still be considered part of the individual's autobiographical experience.'

It's extremely discomforting to realise that some special memory we've held dear for years could be false. It's even more disturbing once we realise how easy it is to implant false memories into our minds, as discovered by a University of Washington experiment. In the experiment volunteers were shown a doctored Disneyland commercial featuring Bugs Bunny, a character not appearing at the theme park. A week later, a third of the volunteers for the study remembered seeing Bugs at Disneyland.

And should you combine the results of that experiment and the University of Hull study, it brings up serious questions about the nature of repressed memories. Are they real memories, or implanted?

George Washington would have thought they were real, but apparently she wasn't.

The mythical memories: How a fifth of us fondly recall happy events... that never actually happened [Daily Mail]


Comments

    As unsettling as this may be, uncertainty is the only sensible constant in life.
    If you can't question your decisions or truths, how can you improve on them?

    This has happened to me a few times, although for some reason I can't remember all of them now.

    I do remember when I was in Seoul as a child being told by my uncle that if we don't get down from the mountain we were on by dusk, tigers would come out of the woods and eat us for dinner. I was there with about half a dozen cousins/friends. Strangely, when I repeated the story to my dad that night in front of everyone who was with me on the mountain, nobody else could recall my uncle saying anything like that. Strange.

    You're all crazy, and I should know.

    I was in the vanguard of space marines who stormed mars to eradicate the evil mind shredding natives of that planet. Their mental powers stripped the sanity and blind patriotism from your synapses like muck through a duck.

    I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was actually last week.

    Oh, goody. Now whenever somebody brings up an embarrassing childhood memory I can just whip out this study and tell them they imagined it.

    I recall going to a GP for some sort of shots once or twice a week when I was around...6 maybe?
    Every time I remember crying as the needle entered, and every time I remember my parents taking me to the chemist next door to buy a chocolate; usually one of those mint patties.

    A few months ago I talked about it with my parents as we were passing the place where the GP used to be; they don't recall anything like that.

    Needless to say, I was more than a little disturbed to think that I was being pumped full of needles for a few weeks and my parents don't even remember it. This seems the most likely explanation.

    the vlog brothers did a video about something similar, 'flashbulb memories' it's quite interesting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyXVTLoR1lI

    check it out

    I guess I'm one of the few that recalls things accurately.

    Just so you guys know, this isn't anything too new. Early studies as far as 10-20 years ago in psychology indicated that this was a possibility for various abnormal memories test subjects would recall after tests.

    Heck there was even a few studies conducted by Sydney University that tested just this hypothesis, leading to the conclusion of possible false memories. If you want more info then trawl the USYD libary.

      One of the reasons suggested was that the brain couldn't recall key information that it felt was important at the time and in most individuals, the mind would twist the existing information or memories to fill in the blanks. In the rarer cases (ie 1 in 5) the mind would make up information and memories completly to compensate for the lack of information.

    I remembered to going to Disneyland in Australia once. Yeah, yeah, yeah...

    This isn't the first study of it's kind, by the way. It's an interesting new way of performing it, however.

      False memories have indeed been known about for a while. That's why police have to be (or should be, at least) careful when asking witness questions as the questions themselves can alter the memory.

      ie: "What colour was the car?" should be used over "Was the car red?"

      In court witness testimonial alone is usually not enough to obtain criminal conviction for this reason. Especially if they have a good defense lawyer.

    All these things did happen. Everyone else just forgot that it did, because it was undone in time, possibly by an exploding tardis.

    It's just a case of the Last Thursdays.

    The world keeps ending and people remember the wrong timelines.

    ...this is the second story with no link to video games.

    Slow news day Kotaku?

    "One volunteer said they had memories of playing hockey, even though her parents and family members assure her that she’s never hit a puck." - Maybe she played it at school, or at a friends house.

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