False memories, why do we have them?

Most of us, even if we have very good memories, “suffer” from false memories. That experience of remembering having left something in a certain place and then, when you look for it, it is not there. From our perception, someone took it or moved it. However, when we reached into our pockets, we found what we were looking for.

false memories

We all have false memories

According to Julia Shaw, a psychologist at University College London, “everyone has false memories all the time.” It happens to us, even though we boast of having the most prodigious memory in the world.

As Shaw says, these memories refer to autobiographical memory and not to events that occurred in the past. They are memories of events that happened to ourselves, with multisensory components. Remembering how something felt, what it tasted or smelled, among other emotions.

It is those memories that have the greatest complexity when brought to mind, those that do not occur with the events. Events like that of March 11 in Atocha immediately come to our memory, since they are in less intricate areas of our brain.

On the other hand, memories that refer to our experiences must travel through pathways in the brain that are responsible for our own emotions. It is a very intricate and extensive network of neurons.

Why are they false memories?

These types of memories are not faithful to what really happened and often have very little relationship with the true events. Scientific studies confirm that this is really the case.

The fact that our memories are unreliable does not affect our lives, according to psychologist Shaw. “It’s a very important insight into how our brain works, that it’s not just there to record the past perfectly.”

The brain and memories

According to the psychologist, our brain is there to solve the problems of everyday life, to be creative, to be intelligent. Connections with the past allow us to create new stories, be innovative or have new ideas.

She states that memories are like clay figures that never dry out. If we take them fresh as they are, we can shape them as we like and we will have a very different figure than the one we formed at the beginning. Perhaps what is most intriguing is that we have the version of a memory based on what we remembered the last time, and not its original version.

Experimentation to confirm the idea

To corroborate his hypothesis, Shaw conducted an experiment to present in his doctorate. The objective was to demonstrate that a group of students generated false memories. The demonstration and its results were both disturbing and revealing.

The students described events from a few years ago, which had not actually happened as they described them. Over three sessions, the psychologist induced them, using information collected from the volunteers’ parents.

After the three sessions, 70% of the volunteers created false memories.

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