False Memory Reflection

January 10, 2017

1)Target Participant

The false memory experiment was presented to 20 grade six students. The students were unaware of the experiment since it was conducted as if it were still a normal learning process. All the participants were presented with several false-event questions, in which some of the questions had been provided with a response (memory implantation), while in others, participants were forced to provide their response (forced confabulation). Participants were also required to rate their confidence in the answers they provided so that the experimenter can identify the level of misinformation.

2) Context/Setting

The experiment was a simple one aimed to extend the research on false memories by scrutinizing the confidence ratings provided by the participants in their responses. A list of 20 related words was prepared, and a questionnaire containing the false questions was also prepared. This list was presented to the participants so that they can read them aloud in class. There was a free recall test which was conducted after three days. The list contained words such as pillow, nap, bed, snore, dream, among others. That is, the words were related to physiological sate of sleeping or resting. These words were arranged in an alphabetical order. The questionnaire was used to stimulate an interview where the false-event information was presented.

The questionnaire contained ten questions about the list of words, of which five were true-event questions and the other five were false-event questions. True-event questions were questions regarding the words that were present in the list, and false-event questions were misleading since they asked about the words which were not in the list. Each question was followed by a blank space. When a false-event question was used to arouse a confabulated response, the blank space was not filled. When a false-event question was used to provide an implanted response, the blank space was filled with a response.

Of the five true-events questions, two were provided with an answer, while for the other three, the participants were supposed to generate their responses. For three false-events questions, participants found implanted answers and the rest two false-event questions, participants confabulated their answers. After each question there was a confidence scale (1= “not at all confident” to 5= “extremely confident”) in which the participants were supposed to rate their confidence level. During the free recall test, participants were given a questionnaire containing similar questions and asked to list all the words they could remember.

3) Methodology

The experiment was conducted in three phases as follows:

Phase 1: Reading words aloud. Participants entered the classroom and were asked to read the list of 20 words contained in a PowerPoint; therefore, serving as the eyewitnesses of the event.

Phase 2: Questionnaire presentation. Immediately after phase 1, the participants were presented with a questionnaire. The experimenter explained to them that the questionnaire contained some answers that a previous participant had recorded. Participants were told to answer the unanswered questions, and for the answered questions, they should read the answers provided without editing them. Therefore, if an answer was provided on the questionnaire (implant condition), the participants were instructed to barely read them. If the answer was not provided, participants were instructed to write an answer (confabulate condition). Participants were also told to rate the answers which were already provided in the question.

Phase 3: Testing. Three days later, all the participants returned to complete a free recall test, but they were unaware of this test prior to their return. They were provided with blank papers, and the experimenter informed them that false information had been encountered in the answers they had provided three days ago, and instructed them to fill the questions again with only the words they witnessed in the list. Participants were given enough time to complete the questionnaire.

The design fitted this experiment because participants provided genuine answers as they thought the experiment was a normal learning process. If they were aware it was an experiment to test false memory, may be they would have fabricated answers to fit the experiment (Reviere, 1997). There were no serious problems experienced during the experiment, the only problem noted was that two students did no turn up for the free recall test.

4) Participant reaction(s)

For the false-event questions which had been provided with an answer, participants seemed to stick on this answer when they were returned for the free recall test three days later as if they had never encountered the false-event question before. For example, in one false-event question they were asked; which one of the following words was not in the list? Bed, sleep, blanket, nap, and daydream. In the implant condition, the answer provided on the questionnaire indicated that all the words were in the list. In the real sense, only two words were in the list. When the participants were asked the same question 3 days later, they indicated that all the words were in the list. A similar false memory occurred in the confabulated questions. If a participant provided false information in the confabulated questions earlier, the same mistake was repeated during the free recall test. This reaction is in consistent with earlier researchers that had similar outcomes (Jensen, 2008).

5) Personal reflection

According the experiment, it is possible to deduce that false memories are created (Gonslaves & Paller, 2002). Forced confabulation and memory implantation lead to false memories (Johnson & Raye, 1998). It does not matter whether someone had witnessed a certain event occurring, implant and confabulation leads to misinformation. Therefore, our memories are not accurate as we like to believe. We should always question what others tell they saw since their memories may have encountered a situation that aroused confabulate or implant condition (Jensen, 2008).