A research team in Germany has achieved great success conducting experiments to create false memories in people’s minds and then erase them. However, at the same time the researchers said that it may have some serious implications for the judicial system.
The team comprised of researchers from Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, the University of Hagen, Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien and the University of Portsmouth.
The team conducted memory experiments on several volunteers in various sessions. Researchers focused on both – planting (creating) and erasing – false memories.
They experimented and tested various psychological techniques and tricks on the subject. They are also trying to find out to what extent the false memories can be erased.
52 volunteers participated in this experimentation. The researchers collected the stories of their childhood and blended them with actual events that took place during that time.
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Researchers also took help from the volunteers’ parents to reinforce these false memories in the minds of volunteers. Parents were asked to convey the stories with false memories with some fictional elements.
Multiple sessions were conducted in which the same process was repeated. Now once the false memories have been implanted, it is time to erase these memories.
In order to do that researchers have started to ask volunteers about the source of these false memories. And highlighted that these memories were created by telling false stories repeatedly.
“If you can bring people to this point where they are aware of that, you can empower them to stay closer to their own memories and recollections, and rule out the suggestion from other sources,” psychologist Aileen Oeberst at the University of Hagen says.
It again took a series of repeated sessions to erase the false memories. It was found during follow-ups that 74% of volunteers had completely forgotten the false memories after a year’s time.
This kind of disturbing yet important research might have serious implications in the world of criminal justice. Such methods can be employed on prosecutors, police, and others to create false memories which can cause a huge problem in search for the ‘truth’.
“Faulty memory may not matter in everyday life – if I tell you I had chicken last night instead of pizza, it may not matter,” says false-memory expert Elizabeth Loftus.
“But very precise memory does matter when we’re talking about these legal cases. It matters whether the bad guy had curly hair or straight hair, or whether the car went through a red light or a green light.”