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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?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Why Do We Have False Memories?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 6 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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