Is it possible to implant memories?
Is it possible for one person to introduce new memories into the mind of another?
It is clear to all of us that our brain is an amazing machine and that its capabilities are the envy of the most advanced 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 we remember with total clarity is not only distorted, but never took place at all?
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?
- Related article "Types of memory: how does the human brain store memories?"
Can implanting memories be a reality?
We are no longer talking only about being mistaken in the memory of a past event, which we recover with a partial or total distortion, but also about that this false memory has come to your memory on purpose by someone else's action.Can something like this happen?
Before we dive into the underlying mechanisms, here's the answer: yes, you can remember something that never happened thanks to the intentionality 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 that 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, by means of a small shock, to remember him and not to enter a certain chamber. The key is that the shock had been received in a different chamber, but the mice "remembered" having received it in the chamber they now feared..
The Mandela effect
We can see other phenomena of false memories much simpler, without the need 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 died in the 1980s, when in fact he did so in 2013. It is a term created by Fiona Broome, a well-known blogger in the pseudoscientific field.
There are many examples of this peculiar effectsome so popular that the reader will find it hard to believe that these memories are not real. Some of them are from the film world: the famous quote "Play it again, Sam" is never said in the movie Casablanca, and the well-known "Luke, I am your father" said by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, is actually: "No, I am your father". And the truth is that in the Snow White movie, the formula "Mirror, mirror, mirror" is not used either, even though we have heard it ad nauseam in our childhood.
To give other examples that touch more closely on Spanish culture, we regret to report that the phrase "Ladran, Sancho, luego cabalgamos" does not appear anywhere in Don Quixote. On the other hand, readers who lived through the coup d'état of 23-F, in 1981, may have memories of following it live on television, which in reality is impossible, since it was only followed by radio stations.
And, if you like art, you surely know Rodin's famous sculpture, The ThinkerCould you imitate his posture for a moment? If you have rested your hand on your forehead, we regret to inform you that you are wrong, because the statue actually rests it on the chin.
- You may be interested in "Cognitive psychology: definition, theories and main authors".
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 the study of false memory, and for this purpose she has used curious experiments, which we will see in depth later on.
The main problem with this disorder is that it was born surrounded by controversy, since it began to be popularized as a result of the investigation of several cases of sexual abuse of minors in which, apparently, there was a series of repressed memories related to these acts, which, in theory, surfaced thanks to different techniques. a series of repressed memories related to these acts, which in theory surfaced thanks to different techniques..
It was then that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation was created, through which a number of parents who had been accused of abusing their children relied on this disorder to defend their innocence. They maintained that this had never taken place and that the memories of their offspring were undoubtedly false.
As a result, the debate soon arose in the courts, debate soon arose in the courts and in the scientific community as to the credibility of this disorderand whether it was not merely an excuse used by the defendants to avoid criminal consequences for the acts on trial.
Something very similar occurs, although in another field of psychology, with the Parental Alienation Syndrome or SAP, since it also had a controversial origin and has not achieved scientific support to be included in the lists of diagnoses of disorders.It also had a controversial origin and has not achieved the support of scientists to be included in the lists of diagnoses of disorders.
A case study
The whole issue of repressed vs. false memories is dealt with in depth by Elizabeth Loftus in the famous article Who abused Jane Doe?. In it she tells 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 make an expert assessment of the little girl's testimony. He concluded that the abuse had indeed occurred, based on a series of indicators that he established.
The problem is that, when Loftus studied the case, he found a number of inconsistencies and omitted information throughout the process that, at the very least, were enough to cast doubt on the conclusion, and more so with the gravity of the charge involved. that, at the very least, were enough to cast doubt on the conclusion, especially with the seriousness of the accusation involved.
This is a tremendously interesting reflection since, relying on the same case study, 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, are false.
Dr. Elizabeth Loftus has devoted 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 an eyewitness..
Let's highlight some of her famous experiments.
Lost in the mall
It is a test carried out on different subjects in which they were told four episodes related to their own life, thanks to the information previously provided by friends and relatives. The peculiarity is that one of these four was false, and consisted of the experience of being consisted of the experience of being lost as a child in a shopping mall..
After some time, they were asked to recall all those experiences and to say whether they remembered them. No less than 25% of the participants said they remembered the fake event.
Even more astonishingly, 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 figure out which one, more than 20% said one other than the fraudulent one..
In another experiment, volunteers were made to watch video sequences showing accidents between different cars. Subsequently, they were asked to recall what happened, but this 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.
The result left no room for doubt. With something as simple as the choice of one word or another, they were already succeeding in suggestible the subjects, since those who were asked the question with "soft" terms affirmed that the cars were going at a low speed, while the others were sure that the vehicles were moving very fast before the impact.
After Elizabeth Loftus' in-depth research, she came to a clear conclusion: it is possible to implant memories, and it is relatively simple to do so..
To summarize the impact of this phenomenon, she herself has used a truly devastating phrase in one of her interviews: "Your memories are like Wikipedia articles. You can modify them, but so can others."
- Ramirez, S.; Liu, X.; Lin, P.A.; Suh, J.; Pignatelli, M.; Redondo, R.L.; Ryan, T.J.; Tonegawa, S. (2013). Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus. Science. Vol. 341, Issue 6144, pp. 387-391.
- Loftus, E., Ketcham, K. (1996). The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse. Macmillan.
- Loftus, E. (1993). The reality of repressed memories. American Psychologist.
- Loftus, E. & Guyer, M.J. (2002). Who abused Jane Doe? The hazards of the single case history. Skeptical Inquirer.