People can be tricked into remembering crimes they never committed.
It sounds like a movie thing, but did you know that it is possible to induce an individual to remember a crime he has never committed? But how can he remember something he never did if this record was never made in memory? According to an article by Cathleen O'Grady of Ars Technica, the idea that memories are not as reliable as we think is disconcerting, but very well established.
According to the report, several studies have shown that participants can be persuaded to create false childhood memories - such as being lost in a mall or hospitalized - or even creating memories of very unlikely scenarios, such as having tea with Prince Charles.
According to Ars Technica, the creation of false memories has obvious implications for the legal system as it gives reasons for the authorities to distrust eyewitness accounts and confessions. For this reason, it is important to know exactly what kinds of false memories can be created, what influences this process, and whether these memories can be distinguished from the real ones.
A recent experiment has shown that indeed many individuals have created false memories of something they did not do. According to an article in the journal Psychological Science, one study found that 71% of respondents exposed to certain interviewing techniques developed false memories of committing a crime as teenagers.
However, in reality, none of these people had any criminal activity or contact with the police during the age group in question. For the research, the experts organized it as follows: After establishing a pool of potential participants, the researchers sent questionnaires to their guardians (parents, grandparents, or caregivers during childhood and adolescence).
The researchers eliminated any participants who were involved in any way with a robbery or theft or had had other police contact between the ages of 11 and 14. They also asked tutors to describe in detail a highly emotional event that the participant had experienced at these ages.
For greater confidence and confidence in the results, tutors were instructed not to discuss the content of the questionnaire with the participants. Then, the 60 participants were divided into two groups: one to be given false memories of committing a robbery, robbery or weapon robbery and the other to be given false memories of another event of an emotional injury, such as an attack of a dog or the loss of a large sum of money.
In the first of the three interviews with each participant, the interviewer presented the true memory that had been provided by the caregiver. Once the participant's credibility and knowledge had been established by the interviewer, the false memory was presented. For both types of memory (both false criminal and false emotional), the interviewer gave participants "clues", such as their age at the time, the people who were involved and until the time of year.
Once this was done, participants were then asked to recall the details of what had happened. None of the participants recalled the fake event the first time it was mentioned, which would be very intriguing, but it ensured that people could often reveal these memories through effort or under pressure.
As it happens
To make participants really think that something happened in their life, a series of tactics were used to induce false memory. First, social pressure was applied to encourage recall of details. For this, the interviewer tried to build a relationship with the participants, who were informed that their tutors confirmed the facts.
In addition, they were also encouraged to use visualization techniques to "discover" memory. In each of the three interviews, participants were asked to provide as much detail as they could for both events. After the final interview, they were informed that the second memory was false and were asked if they had really believed that the events had taken place.
They were also asked to rate how surprised they were to find out that she was fake. Only respondents who responded that they had genuinely believed the false memory, and could give more than ten details of the event, were rated as having a true false memory. Of the group participants with fake criminal stories, 71% developed a “true false memory”.
The group with false stories of a non-criminal nature was not much different, and 77% of the classified participants had a false memory. According to Ars Techinca, this study is just a start and there is still a lot of work to be done.
Researchers say that there are a number of factors that could not be controlled but could influence the results. For example, experts suggest that as only one interviewer was involved, their individual characteristics may have influenced the results, raising the question whether only certain types of interviewers can achieve these effects.
Also, it is not clear whether the participants were totally honest about believing in the false memory, as they might just be trying to cooperate. And yet, the results could also have been affected by the fact that there were no negative consequences for telling the false story.
This study also did not distinguish which of the persuasion tactics had an effect, since the sole purpose was to establish that the creation of false criminal memories was possible. Finally, but not mentioned by the researchers, is the age at which the false memory had occurred.
People may be inclined to develop false memories of events during childhood or adolescence because of a psychological belief that our memories during growth may be flawed. However, these factors may determine the extent to which these findings are important to the legal system.