Do you ever find yourself arguing with your friends trying to prove what actually happened at that party you went to two months ago? Has there ever been an instance where you believed something was so true that you refused to believe anything else? Why does this occur? Well, many researchers state that believing that something happened when it did not is an example of false memory. The idea that people remember events differently than what actually occurred.
What is memory? How does it work? Memory is not as simple as most people think. Memory is broken down into three parts; encoding, storage, and retrieval. It focuses on how information gets transferred into our brains, how it stays inside our brain, and finally how we pull it out of storage and use the information. The article, How Memory Became Weaponized by Matthew Hutson, focuses on the encoding and retrieval aspects of memory and relates it to how it’s affecting us in our daily lives.
In the article Hutson states that the human mind is built to believe. He focuses a lot on the idea that our memory is constantly being altered with the use of technology. Whether it be through news media outlets, social media, or any other source, you can create false claims and advertise it to millions of people who are willing to believe. The biggest contributor to this idea, in my opinion, is POLITICS (enter eye rolls and sighs here).
Since the 2016 elections, there has been a constant divide between both political parties when it comes to “stating the truth.” Much so that supporters are willing to believe anything and everything that continues to confirm their biases on both ends. Our President has been very verbal about his own opinions and often times has stated his own facts on Twitter when he has been from time to time been proven wrong with the information he has been providing. So why do people continue to believe him you may ask. One aspect that may contribute to this is the misleading effect. This happens when one experiences an event and later information that contradicts is presented to them and over time that new information settles into their memory.
Another may be due to his use of repetition. President Trump’s rhetoric has been widely accepted due to the idea of the Illusion of Truth. Statements that are false, but are repeatedly said are more likely to be perceived as being the truth. This idea is exacerbated when like-minded people join together and further promote those beliefs.
When our minds remember the information we try to identify its source, where the information came from. We do this by using heuristics, which is a mental shortcut that uses the least amount of mental effort to make decisions or solve problems – because let’s face it, we’re lazy. If we are unable to recognize the true source it can lead to inaccurate information thus distorting our memory.
How do we avoid getting jumbled into misinformation and false memories? According to Hutson, there are ways to slow down the process, but notes that it’s not 100% effective. Some of the ways include explaining the source of false information and providing an alternative answer that trumps that source, regulation of fraudulent information on the internet, fact-checking and filtering online sources, and overall questioning everything that comes your way to be false until proven otherwise.
Although I don’t agree with Hutson’s ideas of how to get rid of false claims, I do think he did a thorough job of explaining how people create false memories and what aspects of cognition are associated with it. Are there ideas or ways that you believe we can get rid of or even decrease the effect of false memories? Please leave your ideas below in the comments!
Side Note: I was not able to add pictures to the post for some reason, they’re showing up as blank posts after uploading them. Attaching a google doc link, if you would like to read the post with images.