Your Memories: Can You Trust Them?


Throughout my life as a student, I always find myself attached to issues in relation to the human well-being. Opting for Psychology as one of the subjects in my A-level module was one of the better choices I have made in my life. Throughout the span of 18 months, I have found so many new interesting things in regards to the human well-being and health which I would like to talk about it often. Being a new writer on this site, I am glad that I have the opportunity to share my interests here.

So for this post, I would like to talk about the reliability of our memory. Memory plays an important role in our lives. Regardless of memories being sweet or bitter (or perhaps tasteless?), we use them to shape who we are today.

Anyway, I am about to share this interesting topic which I stumbled through my module. Unless you possess photographic memory (the ability to remember what you see exactly), our memory is pretty much something we shouldn’t count on 100%. In reference to this topic, I would like to shed light on a research done previously by Loftus and Pickrell in the attempt to see if it is possible to implant false memories.

GENERIC CAPTION: Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology and Professor of Law

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology and Professor of Law (Image obtained from:


What is a false memory?

It is basically a post-event information that changes the original memories, making an individual to believe that the information was part of the original event despite the fact that it never actually existed.


The “implantation” of a false memory

0005_Dumbledore extracting a memory for The Pensieve

Image obtained from:

In this study, both researchers concluded that our memories only remember several key points in our lives. All these gaps in between are usually filled in with ‘guesses’ or ‘estimation’ of the occurrences. These guesses are usually created based on our past experience. So Loftus and Pickrell performed an interesting study, whereby they wanted to see if it was possible to ‘insert’ a certain event into these empty gaps to their participants. The event that they used in the research was about “getting lost in a shopping complex, cried, found by an old lady, and reunited with parents.”

Twenty-four participants were recruited for the study along with a family member or a close relative accompanying them. The participant’s relatives were then asked of any three memorable events in the participant’s childhood. The scenario of getting lost in the shopping complex would be the fourth event that had never happened in the participant’s childhood and functions as the false memory. These four events were compiled in a five-page booklet and mailed to the participants. They were required to recall and write whatever they could remember about these events. In the event that they do not remember such occurrences, they are required to write “I don’t remember”.

One to two weeks later, the subjects would be interviewed and asked to recall as many details as possible on the four different events they have stated earlier. They were then asked to rate the clarity and confidence of their research on a scale of 1-10. Then, another interview would take place in one to two weeks after the first one and the participants were asked to recall their memories on the four events again.


The shocking results; is your memory your friend or your enemy?

Upon the completion of the first interview, seven out of the 24 participants claimed that they either have partial or full memories of the occurrences of the false event. On the next follow-up interview, six out of the 24 participants continued to claim that they “remembered” the false events. It was found that not only were the events recalled, there were additional details made by the participants into that memory too. So in total there were 13 participants who had shown that it is actually POSSIBLE for a false memory to be implanted in the “empty gaps”.

Hence, this study does prove that it is possible for the phenomenon of false memory formation to occur. In this study, the false memory is possible to be implanted as it is a common scenario in most people’s lives hence it sounded very convincing. It seems that our memories can be convinced into thinking in a different way through these cues.

After reading this study, I start to doubt my memories a little. I wonder how much of my past that I have told my friends was actually false, hahaha! What do you personally think about this? Do you trust your memories? Do let me know!

Nicky Lee

by Nicky Lee

Your typical neighbourhood ah pek who roams on the internet to satisfy his curiosity. Bold. Loud. Talkative. View all articles by Nicky Lee.


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