"I was flabbergasted to have attained such an exceptionally high rate of quite elaborate false memory reports," says University of Victoria psychology professor Dr. Stephen Lindsay. His NSERC-sponsored research is published in the March 2004 issue of Psychological Science.
Forty-five first year psychology students were told three stories about their grade-school experiences and asked about their memories of them. Two of the accounts were of real grade three to six events recounted to the researchers by the participant's parents. The third event was fictitious, but also attributed to the parents. It related how, in grade one, the subject and a friend got into trouble for putting Slime (a colourful gelatinous goo-like toy made by Mattel that came in a garbage can) in their teacher's desk.
The participants were encouraged to recall the events through a mix of guided imagery and "mental context re-instatement"--the mental equivalent of putting themselves back in their grade-school shoes. Half of the participants were also given their real grade one class photo, supplied by their parents.
The photo had a dramatic impact on the rate at which participants thought they had some memory of the imaginary Slime event.
About a quarter of the participants without a photo said they had some memory of the false event. But 67-per cent of those with a photo claimed to have a memory of the non-event--a rate that is double that found in any other study of
Contact: Dr. Stephen Lindsay
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council