Memories are perceived as magical recordings of treasured or traumatic events, It is natural to believe that they have been documented and stored with astonishing accuracy and clarity. But it is this fervid belief of ours that blinds us from accepting the fact that our memories could be victimized to fallacy as well.
This unusual situation leads to a condition called “False memory”, a peculiar state in which your thoughts are distorted, and you start to perceive and remember incidents that never happened.
Is False memory a fact or fantasy ?
As bizarre as it may sound, memory fallibility is a problem that everyone experiences with varying intensities from time to time. But psychologically speaking there is a very specific way to identify this condition.
During an episode of false memory a person identifies a mental event with trivial details and believes it to be an accurate representation of past events, when in reality the event was non-existent.
The psychological effects are usually amplified for trauma victims. They can generally be seen imagining things or falsely accusing or convicting people who never existed. This proves that false memories exists, and it can have a very negative impact on few people.
What really causes a false memory ?
In simple terms, new experiences tend to supervene upon parts of fading memories. So naturally when we try to interpret them after a very long time we end up getting altered results. However, according to research there are a few concrete driving factors that may aid in generating false memories.
- Inaccurate perception
It’s very common to see people who observe things that aren’t there and overlook obvious things that are right in front of them. This can generally be seen when playing a game of treasure hunt and is a very good example of inaccurate perception.
This is generally a state in which your brain rephrases memories to make more sense of them. It is commonly experienced by elderly people. This is a period where people vividly remember the broad picture of an incident but not the intricate details, due to which they plug in any piece of information that’s compatible and eventually believe it to be true.
3. Emotions and arousal level
When you try to recollect an emotionally charged incident you will realize that your emotions dominate as you interpret it, thereby giving you a high arousal state. This is a time when you end up focusing more on the emotions than the facts of the incident, hence you end up imagining something dramatically different from what you intended.
4. Information and attribution
This can be seen in victims of major accidents. They tend to inadvertently modify their trauma experience based on how the rest of the world perceived the incident. This is because it’s hard to be cognizant during a period of shock. Due to this they end up subconsciously framing a memory based on described facts and results. This is the best example of a false memory.
So far there are only psychological factors that determine this case, no neurological or scientific methods are available to ascertain this yet.
The Mandela effect
In very rare cases false memories can conjointly occur in the same time frame, this is a surreal situation which shows the implication of memory fallacy.
This term was coined by Fiona Broome during her experience of a paranormal condition. In 2009, she was attending a conference, and oddly she started discussing the tragedy of Nelson Mandela’s death in the South African prison in the 1980s. She happened to remember the incident so vividly that she could support her claims with extracts from news coverage post the incident and also from the widows’ speech.
But as we know Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, and it was not in a prison. What’s even more unusual is that everyone she spoke to in the conference also seemed to remember the same incidents. This is one of the best examples of memory fallacy.
Disclaimer : This was not a prank !
Such a type of collective false memory experiences falls under the Mandela effect.
So should we be concerned about False memories?
Not at all, provided you have a small dose of it ! False memories generally occur for a very brief period of time.
However, there were cases when false memories stimulated permanent behavioral changes that had adverse effects. For example if you developed a false memory towards hating peanut butter, you may very well end up believing it’s an allergen for the rest of your life, though you never felt any adverse effects consuming it. In other words your unconsciously evading certain objects as you feel it may do you harm.
Finally, we can acknowledge that false memory is a chilling yet astounding psychological phenomena that exists. It only showcases the true complex nature of our cognitive capabilities and exposes how little we actually know.
“ All that we see or seem
is a dream within a dream“
- Edgar Allan Poe