Here's a big one: SOURCE CONFUSION.
Heh. I think that would make a great title for a novel. Anyway, it's also called source-monitoring error, which isn't nearly as snappy. It's exactly what it sounds like: you misattribute the source of a memory. A few notable examples:
- A female rape victim accused a noted memory expert (Dr. Donald Thompson) of having been the culprit. Except he'd been doing a live television interview just before the crime occurred. It turned out she'd seen him on television and confused his face with that of her attacker.
- When her class was asked if they knew any examples of family members' hardships during the Great Depression, nerdy sophomore history student Sarah Fine raised her hand and then told the class a story about her grandfather. Except, er, it was remarkably similar to a story the history teacher himself had told about his own grandfather the year before. Oops.
Here's another way our memories can get combobboswizzelated, and boy has this one wreaked some havoc: SUGGESTION AND IMAGINATION
I really hope there aren't therapists out there who still do this, but a few decades ago, one popular fad in treatment was to help folks dig out "repressed" memories. Now, I am NOT saying that some individuals haven't had traumatic experiences in childhood that they are unable to remember for whatever reason. That happens.
What I AM saying is that it's actually quite easy to get someone to misremember, and it's happened to a few people with pretty disastrous consequences ("memories" of alien abductions, anyone?). One simple technique to create a false or questionable memory: encourage the person to let his/her imagination "run wild" as part of remembering, picturing the possibilities of what could have happened as part of the "remembered" event.
- Some individuals have been encouraged to remember events from before they were two to three years of age by imagining certain tactile/visual sensations (it's actually impossible to encode, store, and recall long-term memories at that age because of the underdevelopment of the left inferior prefrontal lobe)
- Some police interrogations use the technique of having the suspect imagine participating in the crime
There's an absolutely terrifying Scientific American article about how easy it is to create a false memory right here. It was written by one of the foremost researchers in the area of false memory, the "Diva of Disclosure" herself, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.
SO, these are only a few of the many, many ways our memories are malleable and vulnerable to hornfiggling and other deeply disturbing mental shenanigans. I'm sure I'll post about a few more in the future, but for today: can you think of a time when you had a false memory? Or when you weren't sure whether you were remembering an event that happened to you ... or someone else? Or when you knew something had happened to you, but you weren't sure you were remembered it ... or only another person's account of it?
And for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog this month, we're talking about critique. Check out Laura's take on it!