As humans, our memories are inaccurate. We tend to recall events that differ from the way they may have occurred in the past or never occurred at all (Goldstein, 2011). This type of phenomenon is known as false memories. False memories can be evocative and manipulative to a point where it can cause false accusations or identifications of suspects in crime scenes (Kylie, 2016). In fact, many factors such as false information and incorrect attribution of a source of information can play a role in distorting human memory (Cherry, 2019). Due to these factors, the original memory can alter itself in order to include additional information and experiences. An example of this type of phenomenon is George W. Bush’s accounts on the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York.Order now
George W. Bush was interviewed multiple times during this time period about his knowledge of the airplanes that crashed into the Twin Towers. Based on the interview tapes recorded, President Bush showed a great number of inconsistencies in his speeches. President Bush did a total of three interviews over a period of two weeks. On December 4, 2001, and January 5, 2002, President Bush claimed to have seen an airplane “fly into the first building” of the tower (Greenberg, 2004).
However, on December 20, 2001, President Bush told a different story where he remembered his senior advisor bringing him the news, saying “it appeared to be an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane (Greenberg, 2004). Furthermore, it was determined that at the hour of the attack, no footage of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center was captured (Greenberg, 2004). Due to these inaccuracies in his speeches and his failure to address these mistakes, many people began to question President Bush’s character and accuse him of conspiracy. However, many people were unknown to the fact that President Bush was a victim of false memories.
According to psychologists like Elizabeth F. Loftus, false memories can be implanted into people’s memories through suggestions. In fact, since humans are susceptible to suggestions, they can create memories of events or things that have not taken place and thereby flaw the memory system (Cherry, 2019). In addition, false memories can also be induced based on existing information and the interference of other memories (Cherry, 2019). Thus, both these methods can cause the memory system to contain a distorted recollection of events which can then influence human thoughts and actions. For example, in President Bush’s case, his faulty recollection of this 9/11 attack could be a result of the number of times the crash of the first airplane was told or aired on television. As stated by Kylie in The Science of False Memory, “the length of time between the event and the account of the event may have a significant impact on the accuracy of the memory of the witnesses.”
Thus, the more a story is told, the less accurate it becomes. This can especially occur in the case of flashbulb memories where people retain vivid mental images of emotionally charged events (Kylie, 2016). Due to these vivid visuals, humans are more likely to remember these events and form a recollection of them in the way they believed it happened. This thus leads people to mistakenly believe that a flashbulb memory occurred rather than the actual incident thereby causing them to be vulnerable to false memories.
Similar to President Bush, there have been times where I have experienced a false memory myself. For example, recently I had an argument with my cousin over the choreography performed at a Bhangra dance competition. In this dance competition, over 12 teams competed and as captains of the Wisconsin Bhangra team, my cousin and I like to observe these teams and learn new dance steps from them. However, in the process of recalling this event, my cousin and I had opposing views on the way the last team in the competition performed a dance step. Specifically, we wanted to incorporate that Bhangra step into our dance routine but we couldn’t agree on how exactly they performed it on stage. Instead, we both had different variations of the dance step which led to more difficulties in determining how the step was actually done on stage. Later on, I found out that my variation of the dance step was actually performed by the previous team in the competition rather than the last one.
Thus, though I could vividly remember the whole competition from the beginning to the end, my memory became distorted by previous knowledge and interference of other experiences (dance performances by other teams) causing me to form a dance step that I had seen at the competition but associated with the wrong team (false memory). Similarly, though President Bush was informed of the first crash by an aide, he told the press something different because he envisioned in his mind what had happened despite the fact he didn’t observe it (Castel, 2015). Therefore, whether it is President Bush or myself, everyone is capable of creating false memories due to the inaccuracy of the human mind.