what is a false memory?

A false memory is a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event. Such memories may be entirely false and imaginary. In other cases, they may contain elements of fact that have been distorted by interfering information or other memory distortions.

Memory Mistakes Are Quite Common

People often think of memory as something like a video recorder, accurately documenting and storing everything that happens with perfect accuracy and clarity. In reality, memory is very prone to fallacy. People can feel completely confident that their memory is accurate, but this confidence is no guarantee that a particular memory is correct. Examples of this phenomenon can range from the fairly mundane, such as incorrectly recalling that you locked the front door, to the much more serious, such as falsely remembering details of an accident you witnessed.

Definitions of False Memory

How do psychologists define false memory?
How do they distinguish it from other forms of memory fallibility?
Some common elements of false memory include :
– mental experiences that people believe are accurate representations of past events
– trivial details (believing you put your keys on the table when you got home) to much more serious (believing you saw someone at the scene of a crime)
False memory differs from simple memory errors. While we are all prone to memory fallibility false memory is more than a simple mistake; it involves a level of certitude in the validity of the memory.

What are false memories?

A false memory is a recollection that seems real in your mind but is fabricated in part or in whole. An example of a false memory is believing you started the washing machine before you left for work, only to come home and find you didn’t. Another example of a false memory is believing you were grounded for the first time for not washing dishes when you were 12, but your mom tells you it was because you were disrespectful to her — and it wasn’t the first time.
Most false memories aren’t malicious or even intentionally hurtful. They’re shifts or reconstructions of memory that don’t align with the true events. However, some false memories can have significant consequences, including in court or legal settings where false memories may convict someone wrongfully.

What can you do about false memories?

The only answer or treatment for false memories is independent evidence that corroborates or disproves your memories. Yes, false memories may seem quite real and even highly emotional. Your confidence in them makes them feel more tangible, but it doesn’t guarantee authenticity. Likewise, the presence of false memories doesn’t mean your memory is bad or that you’re developing a type of memory disorder, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. False memories, for better or worse, are an element of being human and not having an impermeable brain.