A false memory is a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event that did not actually happen. 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.
Factors that can influence false memory include misinformation and misattributing the original source of the information. Existing knowledge and other memories can also interfere with the formation of a new memory, causing the recollection of an event to be mistaken or entirely false.
Memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus has demonstrated through her research that it is possible to induce false memories through suggestion. She has also shown that these memories can become stronger and more vivid as time goes on. Over time, memories become distorted and begin to change. In some case, the original memory may be changed in order to incorporate new information or experiences.
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Loftus, Elizabeth F. Memory: Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1980.
Loftus, E. (2001). Imagining the Past. Psychologist, 14 , 584-587.