Creation of False Memories

Dr. Loftus believes that there is a high probability of someone being able to implant false memories into another person's memory. A great example of this is the story mentioned earlier that happened to Dr. Loftus herself, when hse was told that it had been her that had found her mother in the swimming pool after she had drowned. Although it really was not her that found her mother, after being told that it had been her, Dr. Loftus began to recall memories of the event (the memories did turn out to be false, because it was her uncle and not her that found her mother in the swimming pool) even though the memories had not been there in the first place. Dr. Loftus' widely used and extremely controversial technique, "Lost in a Shopping Mall" is an attempt by her to prove the possibility of being to implant false memories into a person's brain. In this study, Dr. Loftus contacted the family members of the participants for help; what she needed from them were a couple of memories that actually happned to the participant at around age 5 and also to make sure that they had never really been lost in a shopping mall (Loftus, 1994). When the participants came in, they were given a sheet of paper with three memories on it (two had actually happened, while the third was the false memory that they were trying to implant, of being lost in a shopping mall at the age of five). In the write up of the experiment Dr. Loftus mentions that the false memory event had to be something that was mildly traumatic, but not enough to cause long term damage even after the participant was debriefed. When given the paper with the memories on it, participants were to say if they remembered the event happening or not (and state on a scale of 1 to 11 how confident they were in decided whether or not the event happened) and if they rememebered it happening to write down as many details as they could recall about the event. One particular participant, "Chris" remembered being lost in a shopping mall and had many details to go along with the event. He clearly remembered wandering around thinking that, "he would never see his family again" and he also remembered that a man came up to him wearing a blue flannel shirt; "Chris" also remembered finding his mother and her telling him, "to never do that again," (2008 October 10 In this particular case, Dr. Loftus and her team were able to implant a false memory into "Chris's" mind and his brain ran with, adding in several in depth memories and details to go along with the false one. At the end of the study Dr. Loftus and her team debriefed all participants so that no distress would come to them because of the implantation of the false memory. This study is one of Dr. Loftus' more popular studies, however, with the popularity also comes the controversy over whether or not deceiving a participant is okay. This study has been publicly criticized many times over because of 1) the way that is was conducted and 2) because the findings of the study scare people, because everyone thinks of memory as something like videotape recorder and Dr. Loftus is proving that, that particular metaphor is not correct. 

Another study that Dr. Loftus completed was titled "The Bunny Effect" and had to do with one of the most famous rabbits in history, Bugs Bunny. This study was another on the ability of creating false memoies in the minds of the participants; in this study Dr. Loftus was trying to find if she would be able to convince people that as a child they had attended Disney Land or Disney World and met Bugs Bunny. Participants created memories of seeing Bugs Bunny at one of the Disney locations when in reality that is not possible because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros. character. Participants remembered meeting Bugs Bunny at one of the parks and recalled specific memories of the meeting, such as talking to Bugs and hugging him. Participants also mentioned how excited they remembered being when they met Bugs at either Disney Land or Disney World. This study is another popular example of how easy it is to create false memories; memories are suggestible and cannot be recalled exactly as they stored becuase memories are jumbled when the thinking process commences.

The Misinformation Effect

In 1974, Dr. Loftus and John Palmer researched the misinformation effect and co-authored the journal article "Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory," discussing the results that were found in their experiments. In the first experiment Loftus and Palmer showed seven films to groups of participants (there were 45 participants in all), each film depicted a traffic accident and the lengths of the films ranged from 5 to 30 seconds. After watching each film the participants filled out a questionnaire where they were first asked to "give an account of the accident you have just seen" and then the participants answered a series of questions that were specific to the accident. The critical questions had to do with the speed of the vehicles when they collided. Some subjects were asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?", while other subjects were asked the same question but with the verb hit replaced with one of the following: smashed, collided, bumped, and contacted. Loftus and Palmer found that the form of the question and the verbs used in the question affect the way that the witness will answer the question. In other words the information that the subjects were given directly affected their memory and recall of the event.

In the second experiment conducted by Loftus and Palmer over the misinformation effect, 150 student participants were shown a film that depicted a multiple car accident and then were given a questionnaire to answer. Like in the first experiment, participants were first asked to describe the accident in their own words and then had to answer several questions regarding the accident. This time the critical question had to do with the speed of the vehicles when they collided. Fifty subjects were asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?" The second group of fifty subjects were asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?" The last group of fifty subjects were not asked about the speed of the vehicles. Approximately one week later, the participants returned and answered more questions over the film without watching the film again. In this session the critical question was, "Did you see any broken glass?' to which the participants were to answer yes or no. There was not any broken glass in the film, but since in a car accident there is usually broken glass Loftus and Palmer believed that the participants were asked the question with the verb smashed would say yes more often than the other participants. In this experiment Loftus and Palmer found that when participants were asked "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other" they reported that the cars were going faster than when other participants were asked the same question with smashed replaced with hit. This small change also had large consequences for the reports of the questions a week later. Loftus and Palmer suggested that two kinds of information go into a person's memory for an occurrence; the first information is the perception of the original event and the second information is external that is supplied and learned after the event has taken place. Over time these two different types of information form together so that the witness is not able to discern which is the perception and which is the after effect, so that there is now only one memory. These two types of information are the misinformation effect, the different information mingle together causing the information of the event to be distorted.