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Around 50 Percent of Humans Easily Believe in False Memory, Fake Facts

Dec 08, 2016 04:00 AM EST
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A new study from the University of Warwick revealed that many people are prone to believing fictitious events or events that never happened in real life.

The study, published in the journal Memory, showed that repeatedly imagining a fictitious event as occurring or may have already occurred could lead to the acceptance of the event as real. This suggests how easily fake facts and memories can be mixed with the real ones, posing a big problem in forensic investigations, therapy treatments and court rooms.

"The finding that a large portion of people are prone to developing false beliefs is important," said lead author Dr Kimberley Wade, of the University of Warwick's Department of Psychology, in a press release. "We know from other research that distorted beliefs can influence people's behaviors, intentions and attitudes."

For the study, the researchers analyzed the transcripts of eight published "memory implantation" studies involving 423 participants. In these studies, the researchers suggested fictitious autobiographical events to the participants. These false events include taking a childhood hot air balloon ride, playing a prank on a teacher or creating havoc at a family wedding.

The researchers found that around 50 percent of the participants believed, to some degree, that they had experience the fake events. Interestingly, 30 percent of the participants appeared to "remember" the fake event and even elaborated on how it occurred; describing images of what the event was like. The other 23 percent of the participants showed signs that they have accepted the event and believe that the false memories actually occurred.

With their findings, the researchers are alarmed about the potential difficulty in determining if a person is actually recollecting real events from the past or only stating false suggested memories. Furthermore, the study also showed that it is possible for a large group of people or society to collectively believe in fake facts and fictitious events. And these misinformation brought about by popular people, groups and media could distort and influence the behaviors, intentions and attitudes of people.

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