Psychologist Dr. Julia Shaw says we are essentially creating our own fictional past every time we think back on a personal memory. She says “It’s such a terrifying but beautiful notion that every day you wake up with a slightly different personal past.” Her research even leans in to how the unreliability of memory has impacted our criminal justice system.
While memorizing facts for the EPPP exam is a reliable use of memory, we are all constantly creating false personal memories. Dr. Shaw says in her blog post, How False Memory Changes What Happened Yesterday, “The question isn’t whether our memories are false, it’s how false are our memories.” Every day we recreate our memories, “if ever so slightly.”
False memories are “recollections of things that you never actually experienced.” Whether they be minor memory errors, “such as thinking you saw a yield sign when you actually saw a stop sign” or grander errors “like thinking you took a hot air balloon ride that never actually happened,” everyone has a memory that is not 100% trustworthy.
Can this affect your EPPP exam score? Because false memories are linked to experiences rather than memorized facts, the likelihood of your EPPP score being affected is slim to none. We create false memories as we look back and remember an experience as opposed to retrieving memorized information and concepts. You may, however, fabricate and misremember your experience of taking the EPPP as you look back on it. Dr. Shaw explains that no one is immune to creating false or fabricated memories and says there is no way for us to determine the difference between our own false memories and what actually happened.
[False memories] have the same properties as any other memories, and are indistinguishable from memories of events that actually happened. The only way to check, is to find corroborating evidence for any particular memory that you are interested in ‘validating’.
The indistinguishable nature of false memories appears have serious implications on important events, such as in criminal trials. The nature of interrogation techniques used in our criminal justice system can encourage false confessions which, in turn, create innocent inmates.
The implications of false memory research for the criminal justice system are tremendous. It calls into question our current reliance on memories by suspects, victims, witnesses, even police officers and lawyers.
Dr. Shaw conducted an experiment in which she successfully implanted false memories in college students. Her subjects believed they had partaken in an event that never actually happened. (A brief look into this study is found in the video embedded below.) She used the same six-step “recipe” for each participant of the study. None of the participants knew they were involved in a false memory study, but rather, believed they were being interviewed by a memory expert.
Dr. Shaw explains the six-step process of implanting these memories in NOVA PBS Official’s video Implanting a False Memory. See the full video here: