A false memory occurs when a person remembers an event that did not actually occur. In false memory syndrome, the individual experiences symptoms or full-blown psychiatric disorder(s) based on the inaccurate memories.
Humans are highly suggestible; they can forget important occurrences and may also remember events that never actually happened. Most of the time, false memories are innocuous; for example, remembering having put laundry in the dryer, when the wet clothes are still sitting in the washing machine. Memory is subjective and can be unreliable. It may be influenced either by incorporating information received after the fact or by decrement through forgetting due to the passage of time. Memory is most accurate immediately following an event. Over time, nonrehearsed (not repeatedly accessed) memory fades and can be more readily influenced by the imposition of new information.
Elizabeth Loftus (1944–), a prominent memory researcher, published extensively on false memory syndrome. In one of her studies, students were shown a video of an automobile accident involving two vehicles. After viewing the video, students were asked a series of questions about what they had seen. The wording of the questions strongly influenced what they remembered. The inaccurate memories persisted a week later when the students were retested on their recollections of the video.
False memory syndrome is a controversial diagnostic concept within both the academic and scientific communities. The term was coined by a group called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. There is considerable research evidence that it is possible to reshape individual memories, particularly when influenced by an authority figure or a person who is considered highly credible or respected. Some people have a great desire to please individuals perceived to be powerful and will, either consciously or unconsciously, tailor their responses to questions about recalled memories to what they think is expected of them.
See also Alzheimer's disease ; Memory .
Brainerd, C. J., and V. F. Reyna. The Science of False Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Maran, Meredith. My Lie: A True Story about False Memory. San Francisco: Wiley, 2010.
Eichenbaum, Howard. “Dedicated to Memory?” Science 330, no. 6009 (December 2010): 1331–32.
Loftus, Elizabeth. “Imagining the Past.” Psychologist 14, no. 11 (2001): 584–87.
False Memory Syndrome Foundation. http://www.fmsfonline.org/index.php (accessed July 15, 2015).