Techniques Thursday: Memory Sleuth: How to tell a memory is false

In light of an earlier article I wrote on the vulnerability of memories, and how false memories can be planted in our minds, I decided to write an article on how to tell a memory is false.

Consider Madrigal (yes, it’s the name of a book character, from Dreams of Gods and Monsters if you must know. I’m reading it now and rather enjoying it. No, I’m not linking it because I get a commission from the publisher if you buy the book. I wish, though. No pun intended. And yes, if you read the trilogy, you would get the pun.)

Moving on.

Consider Madrigal. She claims to have been raped by the White Wolf when she was younger. She repressed the memory, but after undergoing therapy with a psychologist, the memory was unearthed, like old pottery from a deserted cave. Her explanation of the situation and her memories are detailed, emotional and provocative. Can she be trusted? Or more aptly stated, can her memory be trusted?

An examiner an focus on groups of memories or on the individual remembering to determine whether a particular memory is a false one.

one way to potentially do this is via criteria-based content analysis. The idea behind this analysis is that false statement have inherent differences, in relation to veritable statements. 19 criteria are scored, such as logic unusual details, spontaneous corrections, etc.

True memory reports, though, tend to contain more detail than dishonest or false ones. The details are also more sensory.

The best approach to determining false memories are to combine various approaches:

  • focus on groups of memories
  • focus on the individual reporting the memory
  • focus on the details of the memory

 Working to determine how sensory-detailed a memory is, on how this makes sense, and how the structure of the memory is organized, can help determine if a memory is a true or false one. However, more research needs to be done in this arena, to develop not only personal strategies for determining the veracity of a memory, but also for developing laboratory-oriented techniques, such as better neuroimaging, etc. to determine the structure of memories.

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