Interesting Reddit AMA

AMA stands for 'ask me anything'. On reddit, occasionally these Q&A sessions on interesting topics are organised, and people ask questions and an expert in the field answers them.

AskScience AMA Series: I’m Dr. Julia Shaw, a memory scientist and criminal psychologist. I study how we create complex false memories. AMA!

Hi Reddit!

I study how we can create incredibly detailed memories of things that never actually happened. In particular, I implant rich false memories of committing crime with police contact and other highly emotional autobiographical events. I thought I’d share my work with the community, since I’m an avid Redditor.

The technique I use in my research is essentially a combination of what's called “mis-information" (telling people convincingly that something happened that didn’t) and an imagination exercise which makes a participant picture the event happening. The goal is to get my participants to confuse their imagination with their memory. I find, as do many other scientists who study memory, that it is often surprisingly easy to implant memories. All of my participants are healthy young adults, and in my last study 70% of them were classified as having formed these full false memories of crime by the end of the study. I am currently working on further research and analysis to see whether I can replicate this, since this success rate was incredibly high.

Check out the link for the full AMA. One particular answer caught my eye though.

trial_by_choir: Has learning about this stuff changed how you use your own memories?

Dr_Julia_Shaw: OH YEAH. I have always been self-conscious about my autobiographical memories, since I have always been really bad at remembering things that happen in my personal life. I am pretty good, on the other hand at remembering facts and information. This is part of why I was confident my research on creating false memories could work, since if my memory was like this SURELY there must be others out there whose memories also don't work perfectly.

While I was always cautious about memory accuracy (as far as I remember, hah!), now I am convinced that no memories are to be trusted. I am confident that we create our memories every day anew, if ever so slightly. It's such a terrifying but beautiful notion that every day you wake up with a slightly different personal past.

It makes me think about some of the nostalgic memories I have. How much of these are created and not really true? I don't mean created in the sense that I forged up the entire memory that is unlikely, but perhaps those moments weren't as beautiful as I remember them to be.