The formation of false memories - Loftus, E.F. and Pickrell, J.E. (1995)
To understand how we can become tricked by altered data about a witnessed event.
Can this altered data make us form false memories of seen events?
3 males, 21 females of ages 18 to 53.
Most pairs were made up of parents and their child. Some were made up of siblings.
The youngest member of any pair was 18.
All relatives were the older in the pair and they needed to be knowledgeable about the childhood of the subject.
This was a quasi experiment. Quasi experiment: independent variable was not directly manipulated by the experimenter.
The research method of the study was an experiment with the use of a questionnaire.
The subject’s relatives were interviewed to determine events of the subject’s childhood between 4-6 years old.
The relatives were asked about the subject's possible shopping trip to the mall at age 5.
The subjects couldn’t have had family folkore or traumatic events.
The subjects also couldn’t have been lost at a mall at age 5.
The subjects were told they were in a study which focused on childhood memories and why we can remember some and not others.
They were told to read the booklet provided which contained three real memories and one fake one from childhood.
Then they were instructed to write below the events stuff they remembered about them, and if they didn’t remember it to write. “I do not remember this.”
Then the subjects mailed this booklet back.
1-2 weeks later the subjects were interviewed, then again after another 1-2 weeks. (These interviews were conducted over the phone or at the University by 2 women, who recorded the interview.)
The subjects were asked to recall as many details as possible for the 4 events in the interview.
Then to rate their clarity and content on a scale of 1-10.
Then to rate their confidence they could remember more if time was given on a scale of 1-5.
Then they were debriefed. After the first session debriefing included asking them to think about the memories, but not to discuss them.
After the second session debriefing included apologizing for deception and having them try to guess the false memory.
Data was collected through interviews of the subject and the subject’s relative.
Data was also collected through the booklet the subjects were mailed.
Then through a self-rate scale.
Quantitative data was collected when the subjects were asked to rate their confidence, clarity, and content.
Qualitative data was collected through interviews with the subject and the subject’s relative, along with the booklet.
The participants, when describing the different memories, were more detailed with the true memories (giving approximately 138 words) and much less so when talking about the false memories (around 50 words).
They were clearer and more confident on the true memories than the they were on the false ones.
Nineteen out of twenty-four of the participants in the study were able to identify the false memory.
About 75% of the participants resisted the false memory.
The participants could have been recalling other instances in which they’d been lost in a crowded area. Since the false memory is one that is a type of situation that is common in many peoples lives at one point or another, it makes it easily mistaken with other memories that may have actually occurred. Another weakness was the questionnaire that was sent to the participants at home. This allowed them to call people and verify their answers.
The questionnaire that is given allows for the participants to be untruthful for some reason or another, which reduces the validity of the study.
It can be argued that the ecological validity of this study is low, because of the high levels of control and the lab, but
It could also be said that the ecological validity is high because the people that participated in the study were real people and they were talking about their actual memories.
False memories can be formed, based on the results of the study, although the researchers said that they don’t know what percentage of people they can be formed in, but they did conclude that it is possible.
This may be because the false memory was made believable. The elements were paired with elements that are common to most peoples’ lives, like being in a mall, crying and getting lost, which would make it easy to mistake this false memory with another one that is real..
There was a high level of control present in this study, as some parts were conducted in a lab, and all of the variables were kept consistent for each participant, leaving little or no room for them to change the results of the study.
The false memory was made believable, that way it could not be easily identified.
One ethical concern of this study is deception. The participants were brought into the study under false pretenses, thinking that they were taking part in a study to find out ‘the kinds of things that can be remembered from your childhood.’