One subject introduces new memories into the mind of another

03.07.2020

We all know that our brain is an amazing machine and that its capabilities are the envy of the most cutting-edge computers. But is it really as accurate as we think?

How can we be sure that everything we remember is real? What if an event that we remember with complete clarity is not only distorted, but directly, never took place?

Let's see how possible it is to experience this curious phenomenon by exploring a disturbing question: is it possible to implant memories in people?

Can implanting memories be a reality?

We no longer only talk about being wrong in the memory of a past event, which we recover with a partial or total distortion, but that said false memory has come to your memory on purpose by someone's action . Can something like this happen?

Before diving into the underlying mechanisms, we anticipate the answer: yes, you can come to remember something that has never happened thanks to the intention of another individual.

Susumu Tonegawa, from MIT, has shown not only that this phenomenon is possible, but that the process by which it occurs is the same as in the creation of a true memory, and this is through neural networks that create engrams . Tonegawa found the region of the hippocampus on which he had to act, using light, to achieve his goal, through a method called optogenetics .

In his experiment, he managed to condition several mice, with a small shock, so that they remembered him and did not enter a certain chamber. The key is that the download had been received in a different chamber, but the mice "remembered" having received it in the one they now feared .

The Mandela effect

We can see other phenomena of false memories much simpler, without having to go to a laboratory . For example, there is a curious phenomenon in which events that did not happen, or at least not in a certain way, are remembered by a multitude of people, sometimes by a large part of society.

It is known as the "Mandela effect," because one of the most popular is the popular belief that Nelson Mandela passed away in the 1980s, when he actually did so in 2013. It is a term that Fiona Broome, a very blogger, has created. known in the pseudoscientific field.

There are many examples of this peculiar effect , some so popular that the reader will find it hard to believe that these memories are not real. Some are from the cinematographic field: the famous quote from: "Play it again, Sam", is never said in the Casablanca film, and the well-known "Luke, I am your father" said by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, is in reality: "No, I am your father." And, the truth is that in the Snow White film, the formula of "Mirror, mirror" is not used either, even though we have listened to it endlessly in our childhood.

To give other examples that touch more closely the Spanish culture, we regret to communicate that the phrase of "They bark, Sancho, then we ride" does not appear in any corner of Don Quixote. On the other hand, readers who lived through the coup d'etat of 23-F, in 1981, may have memories of following it live on television, which is actually impossible, since such monitoring was only done through radio stations.

And, if you like art, you surely know Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker . Could you imitate his posture for a moment? If you have rested your hand on the forehead, we regret to inform you that you are wrong, since in fact the statue does it on the chin.

False memory syndrome

Although it is not a disorder recognized by the main diagnostic manuals (ICD-10, from the WHO and DSM-V, from the APA), it has become a very popular term. It is a concept coined by psychologist (and mathematician) Elizabeth Loftus . She has devoted practically her entire career to studying false memory, and for this she has used curious experiments, which we will see in depth later.

critics

The main problem of this disorder is that it was born surrounded by controversy, since it became popular as a result of the investigation of several cases of sexual abuse of minors in which, apparently, there were a series of repressed memories related to these acts, which in theory they emerged thanks to different techniques .

It was then that the Foundation for False Remembrance Syndrome was created, through which a series of parents who had been accused of exercising these abuses on their children, used this disorder to defend their innocence. They maintained that this had never happened and that the memories of their offspring were undoubtedly false.

Therefore, soon the debate in the courts and in the scientific community arose about the credibility of this disorder , and if it was not a mere excuse that the accused used to avoid the criminal consequences of the acts that were being tried.

Something very similar occurs, although in another area of ​​Psychology, with the Parental Alienation Syndrome or SAP , since it also had a controversial origin and has not yet obtained the support of scientists to be included in the lists of diagnoses of disorders.

A practical case

The whole theme of repressed memories vs. false memories is covered in depth by Elizabeth Loftus in the famous article Who Abused Jane Doe? . In it he tells us the story of a girl who was allegedly abused by her mother, in the 1980s, when she was 6 years old.

Throughout the judicial process, David Corwin, a psychologist, was commissioned to carry out the expert opinion on the child's testimony. It concluded that such abuses had indeed occurred, due to a series of indicators that it established.

The problem is that, when Loftus studied the case, he found a series of inconsistencies and omitted information throughout the process that, at least, were enough to question the conclusion, and more with the seriousness of the accusation involved.

It is a tremendously interesting reflection since, relying on the same practical case, we first obtain a vision that speaks of repressed traumatic memories, while in the second we find the possibility that these memories have been implanted, and therefore , be false.

Experiments

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus has dedicated decades of work to find methods to discern whether it is possible to implant memories, since, as she herself says, in an investigation it is just as important not to contaminate the crime scene as the testimony of a witness .

We will highlight some of his famous experiments.

Lost in the mall

This is a test carried out on different subjects in which four episodes related to their own lives were reported, thanks to the information previously provided by friends and family. The peculiarity is that one of those four was false, and consisted of the experience of being lost as children in a shopping center .

After a while they were asked to recall all those experiences and say if they remembered. No less than 25% of the participants said they remembered the false event.

And, what is even more amazing, when it was explained to them that one of the four anecdotes they were working with had not happened, and they were asked to try to find out which one, more than 20% said a different one to the fraudulent one .

Traffic accident

In another experiment, the volunteers were made to watch video footage showing accidents between different cars. Subsequently, they were asked to remember what had happened, but it was done through very specific questions , which in some cases included terms such as "contact" and in others "shock", and the like.

The result left no room for doubt. With something as simple as choosing one word or another, they were already succeeding in suggesting the subjects, since those who were asked the question with "soft" terms stated that the cars were going at a low speed, while the others They were sure that the vehicles were moving very fast before impact.

Implications

After deep research by Elizabeth Loftus, she came to a clear conclusion: it is possible to implant memories, and it is also relatively easy to do so .

To synthesize the repercussion of this phenomenon, she herself has used a phrase, really devastating, in one of the interviews that they have done to her: "Your memories are like Wikipedia articles. You can modify them, but others can also do it ".

Think wrong and be right. To say that many have made this saying their way of thinking about others is not an exaggeration, in fact, there is even relatively recent scientific evidence about how people think that others act more for bad reasons than for good reasons.

Sigmund Freud confessed in his letters that he was afraid to travel. He called this type of anxiety "Reiseangst", although to this day, this particular phobia is known differently and defines a condition associated with generalized anxiety disorders.