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How to create false memories:

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A recent study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology tested whether showing people photos of completed actions–such as a broken pencil or an opened envelope–could influence them to believe they’d done something they had not, particularly if they were shown the photos multiple times.

Participants were presented with a series of objects on a table, and for each object were asked to either perform an action or imagine performing an action (i.e. “crack the walnut”).  One week later, the same participants were brought back and randomly presented with a series of photos on a computer screen, each of a completed action (i.e. a cracked walnut), either one, two or three times. Other participants were not shown any photos.

One week later, they were brought back to complete a memory test in which they were presented with action phrases (i.e. “I cracked a walnut”) and asked to answer whether they had performed the action, imagined performing it, or neither, and rate their confidence level for each answer on a scale of one to four.

The results: the more times people were exposed to a photo of a completed action, the more often they thought they’d completed the action, even though they had really only imagined doing it.  Those shown a photo of a completed action once were twice as likely to erroneously think they’d completed the action than those not shown a photo at all.   People shown a photo three times were almost three times as likely as those not shown a photo.

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