False Memory

What are false memories?

The actual definition for false memory is an apparent recollection of an event that did not actually occur. Although memories seem to be concrete and straightforward, strong evidence suggests that memories are subject to change and every so often unreliable. Some memories may contain elements of fact that have been distorted. These types of memories are mental experiences that people believe are accurate representations of past events. They often revolve around trivial details. Although, we are all prone to memory fallibility false memory is more than a simple mistake. Our recollection of memories can be manipulated, and even entire sets of events can be confabulated.


What are false memories often confused or compare to?

They are often mixed with déjà vu or past premonitions. The term déjà vu means “already seen” in the language French. Those who describe the feeling tend to describe it as an overwhelming sense of familiarity with an event or place. The phenomenon is rather complex and there are different theories as to why they occur. Several psychoanalyses attribute the phenomenon as a wish fulfillment. Some parapsychologists believe it related to past-life experience. The term premonition is a forewarning or a feeling of anticipation over a future event. Well, many have had ‘’past’’ premonitions or in other words visions.


There has been research of people claiming to have already been at a certain place or of them having done an action before. False memories can certainly be interpreted the same way. An example would be locking a door and seeing a red rag on a table. Then going to bed and forgetting if you lock the door and remember that you locked it when you noticed a blue rag on the sink. An example of déjà vu would be grabbing a cup of orange juice and have a feeling as if you’ve done that already in a previous life.


Potential impacts of False Memories

Most of the time these false memories are fairly inconsequential. For example, let’s say you put your sneakers on and leave the house think you put on socks but in reality, you just placed your sneakers on without socks. Time can influence false memory formation. It’s been suggested memories form more readily when enough time has passed that the original memory has faded. When the subject’s memories were tested, true memories and false memories produced relatively similar patterns of activation, though true memories of the event were accompanied by more activation in the visual cortex while false memories.

Our brain tends to connect our memories with past events. Sometimes though it is misled and we think we memorize correctly when in reality we change the way our memory was interpreted. That is false memory.


Loftus, E.F. and and Pickrell, J.E. (1995). The Formation of False Memories. PsychiatricAnnals. 25(12). 720-725.

“What is déjà vu?” 13 June 2001.

Rebecca M. Nichols, … Elizabeth F. Loftus, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), 2015

E.J. Marsh, … L.K. Fazio, in Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, 2008

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3 thoughts on “False Memory

  1. dzuleta

    This is so interesting, and I wonder if perhaps people in our lives can play a part in this phenomenon? For example, our childhood memories are quite hard to remember and I can recall speaking of certain events that were told to me by a parent or family member, yet I talk of it as if I myself genuinely remembered it without help. This can also happen in the circumstance that we are told information of the past that did not actually happen, and we believe that it did happen so much so that we claim we remember it did. The problem I have with false memories is that it is very difficult to conclude what actually happened without a group to confirm reality. Sometimes I will recall a memory that I am confident 100% happened down to the detail but I will be told that it never happened or that I am “crazy” to come up with a story. This can be incredibly frustrating because how does someone “prove” their experiences were reality when the only evidence is in our memory and even that is subjective on its own. This makes me wonder if perhaps that is why so many people record and take pictures at concerts, parties, and get togethers so that they have some sort of objective piece of evidence to confirm or jog their memory.

  2. cookcl

    This is such a wild concept to me and reading this blog sparked my interest to research more about it. I seem to get deja vu very often, so it is cool to read a little bit about that. But there definitely have been times that me and my sister have had false memories about things we did in our childhood. We’ll go to tell each other something and the other will not remember it happening at all. It would be cool to know if there is s certain science behind it, such as certain things causing false memories to form or even certain things that cause deja vu, or if it truly is just a random phenomenon.

  3. Emily Beitzell

    I feel like I get deja vu all the time. I would love to do some research on what deja vu actually is. Have I actually experienced this before or am I just making a weird connection to a something I would typically do? I have also experienced false memories when I was a kid. I would confuse dreams I had for actual events I thought occurred. My parents were always really confused where I came up with some of the stuff before they realized it was likely a dream.

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