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Why Do We Have False Memories?

Why Do We Have False Memories?It is difficult to explain why someone would remember an event that did not occur. This action can cause horrific consequences as our justice system trusts human memory.

Every year throughout the world hundreds of thousands of court cases are heard based solely on the testimony of somebody who swears that they are reproducing exactly an event that they witnessed in a more or less not too distant past.

Nevertheless, emerging research in cognitive neuroscience indicate both the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain recall.

Memory is a cognitive process which is intrinsically linked to language.

One of the fundamental tasks that the brain carries out when undertaking a linguistic activity — holding a conversation, for example — is the semantic process.

On carrying out this task, the brain compares the words it hears with those that it recalls from previous events, in order to recognize them and to unravel their meaning.

This semantic process is a fundamental task for enabling the storing of memories in our brain, helping us to recognize words and to memorize names and episodes in our mind. However, as everyone knows, this is not a process that functions perfectly all the time.

In fact, this lack of precision, on occasions, gives rise to the creation of false memories.

Two new research studies by Kepa Paz-Alonso, Ph.D., at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language (BCBL) have been published in the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society and the Schizophrenia Research scientific journals.

Researchers discovered that the semantic process linked to the subsequent recognition of such words among children as well as adult schizophrenics, is less efficient than that produced in a normal adult brain.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that children do not have this semantic process as automated and developed as adults.

That is, the adult brain, after making the same connections over and over again between various zones of the brain concerned with memory, has mechanized the process of semantically linking new information for its storage.

Nonetheless, according to the results of Paz-Alonso’s research, this process is more likely to generate false memories in the brain of an adult than in a child’s brain.

According to the researchers, “in reality, the same processes that produce these “false memories” amongst healthy adults are also responsible for their having better memory.

“Rather than a memory defect, this effect is an example of the price that we sometimes have to pay for the virtues or merits of our memory.”

Source: Elhuyar Fundazioa

Abstract of brain photo by shutterstock.

Why Do We Have False Memories?
APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Why Do We Have False Memories?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 17, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.