Uh Oh. Are Our Memories Lying To Us?



ImageIllustrated by Isabelle Rancier.
We've all had those experiences. We head off on vacation, check our luggage for our favorite swimsuit, only to find it MIA. We know we packed it. We remember packing it. We spend forever wondering where it has possibly gone, only to return home and find it snug in a drawer. The memory that seemed so real was obviously false.

Since we know that our brain does in fact create false memories, how can this be harnessed? Over at Slate, false-memory expert Elizabeth Loftus describes her success in actually implanting false memories in people. If this sounds like a scene straight out of Inception, it is. When studied using brain scans, incredibly, the false memories are identical to real memories. There's no way to tell them apart. These memories held so much sway that there were able to alter future behavior.

For example, Loftus and her team implanted false memories in people, leading them to believe they had gotten really sick after eating strawberry ice cream as children. Later, when they were offered strawberry ice cream amongst a bunch of other flavors they were — surprise — less likely to choose the strawberry. The same experiment worked when the team implanted the false memory that the participants had gotten very sick off of drinking vodka. Guess what? They were turned off from vodka.

This piece is especially important in thinking about future treatments for problem drinkers. What if you could simply implant a memory of not liking alcohol? How could this affect treatment for this difficult disease? Read all about our undependable memories after the click. (Slate)