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Don't always believe what you see, suggests study on false memories

NEW ORLEANS People can easily be swayed into believing that they have seen something they never actually did see, say researchers at Ohio State University.

Participants in a study looked at a series of slides portraying geometric shapes. They were later shown a second set of test slides two of the test slides contained images from the original group of slides, two contained images that were obviously not part of the original set, and one slide contained the lure image a shape very similar to all of those shown in the original slide set, but one that wasn't actually part of the original set.

Participants correctly identified the shapes they had seen in the original slides 80 percent of the time. But more often than not nearly 60 percent of the time the subjects said that they had indeed seen the lure image in the original group of shapes, even though it hadn't been there.

"This suggests that visual false memories can be induced pretty easily," said David Beversdorf, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of neurology at Ohio State University. "While using context helps us to remember things, it can also throw us off."

Researchers know a good deal about the false memory effect as it applies to language.

"People are susceptible to verbal false memories, whether it's something that was actually said or an object they have a mental description of," Beversdorf said. "We wanted to know if the ability to induce false memories extends beyond the language system if it also affects the visual system, even when the images aren't easily verbalized. It appears that the ability to create false memories does extend beyond language."

He presented the findings on November 8 in New Orleans at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. He conducted the research with Nicole Phillips, a recent graduate from Ohio State's medical school, and Ashleigh Hillier, a postdoctoral research fellow with Ohio State's department o
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Contact: David Beversdorf
Beversdorf-1@medctr.osu.edu
614-293-8531
Ohio State University
8-Nov-2003


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