Memory training expert and memory keynote speaker, Ron White, would like to share this information about false memories.

Our memories are not always reliable. How often have we turned off a light when we are on our way to bed only to ask ourselves later if we actually had turned the lights off? Do you remember seeing someone do something, only to believe later on that you had done it yourself?

A team of scientists has submitted results of a study that shows the brain can be tricked into believing memories to be true when they actually aren’t. As reported in the journal Psychological Science, a team of researchers had subjects watch other people perform a particular action that led to an impression the subjects had performed the action themselves.

Scientists at Jabobs University in Bremen started out to do research to find out more about the imagination. Their trip into the imagination actually led to revelations about false memories. “We were stunned,” says Gerald Echterhoff, who cowrote the study with Isabel Lindner of the University of Cologne, Patrick S.R. Davidson of the University of Ottawa, and Matthias Brand of the University of Duisburg-Essen. They decided to take their research into another direction and conduct a series of experiments to examine this phenomenon more closely.

During the study individuals performed small duties, like shaking a bottle or shuffling a deck of cards, and then shown videos where others were performing similar tasks. Two weeks later the subjects were asked what tasks they actually performed they gave a description of what they did, and what they saw in the films.  They were more likely to claim they had performed a certain task if they had watched someone else do it. Even when subjects were warned ahead of time they could possible recollect false memories they still did.

Regarding the study lead researcher Gerald Echterhoff said: “It’s good to have an informed doubt or informed skepticism about your memory performance, so you don’t just easily trust whatever comes to your mind as true and for granted.”

Echterhoff believes internal simulation of the action of others we observe may trigger a mechanism in the brain spontaneously, and without our awareness. Speculating further, he believes this simulation could include brain structures such as the ‘mirror neuron system,’ that involves both performing and observing of actions. The false memories could be an unfortunate side effect of the brain simulating other people’s behavior.



CWD, Celebritites with Diseases – Brain tricked into believing false memories, study find, published September 15, 2010: False memories of self-performance result from watching others’ actions: