False Memory Essay Research Paper False Memory

False Memory Essay, Research Paper

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Running Head: FALSE MEMORY

False Memory: The impact of age and suggestibility on children

Melissa Lee

Lynchburg College

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This study examined the effects of planting false memories in children, ages 3 to 8 years of age. Twenty children were divided into two groups, according to age. Group one consisted of ten children, ages 3 to 5, and group two consisted of ten children, ages 6 to 8. The experimenter came to the children’s elementary or preschool to have a 30 minute session with a child 3 times a week. During these sessions, the experimenter would tell the child one real event that happened to them, provided by a parent, and one suggested event, provided by the experimenter. The experiment was conducted for one month, and at the end of this month, the experimenter debriefed the child on which suggested story was false, and which was real.

In dividing these groups by age, we would essentially like to see if age would play a role in suggestibility, and false memory.

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False Memory: The impact of age and suggestibility on children

Memory can be, and often is, faulty in many ways. Despite having been mislead or misinformed, people often report experiencing events that they have not experienced. This is the phenomenon known as false memory (Brainard & Mojardin, 1998).

Research on memory, and in particular, children’s memory, over the past decade has shown repeated misinformation may distort recollection and allow remembrance of details that were not actually present in the original event. Research also suggests that both children and adults may experience false memories when imagined or intensively thought about events that never happened at all are experienced as real upon subsequent recollection.

One famous psychologist and memory researcher, Piaget, actually had an experience of recollecting a false memory. Piaget recounted that one of his most vivid recollections from early childhood was of an attempted kidnapping that was successfully resisted by his nanny. He learned as an adult that the nanny had invented the story of the attempted kidnapping in order to garner attention (McBrien & Dagenbach, 1998). Piaget’s exclusive encounter in this area led him to the theory that he must of heard this story being discussed as a child, imagined what it would be like, and subsequently retrieved the imagined version from memory without realizing its source.

This study emphasizes the effects of false memories in children when an experimenter suggestively places them there. There have been current studies done in this

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area, and the following experiment is based on a study done by Kathy Pezdek and Danelle Hodge in 1999. They consistantly found that young children, aged 5 to 7, are more likely to recall a falsely suggested event than older children, aged 9 to 12.



Twenty children between the ages of 3 and 8 years old served as subjects in this experiment. They were randomly selected from public and preschools across the area of central Virginia. The study used a within-subjects design.


The experimenter administered the 30-minute sessions with the students in a comfortable setting, usually in the school counselor’s office. The only materials used were a pen, pencil, and a legal pad. The experimenter also used a computer to keep up with the student’s results.


With the consent of each student’s parent and teacher, the students were visited three times a week for 30-minutes, at a regularly scheduled time. During the first week of the experiment the experimenter observed the child, and asked open-ended questions regarding the child’s life. The children that participated in this study were eager to do so, because they thought that they were being picked out of their class to represent their school as an exceptional student. They knew that if they participated in the 30-minute

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sessions for the whole month, then they would get one special privilege, provided by the teacher.

Starting with week two, the experimenter used a story regarding the child’s life. The story was a real event that happened sometime in the child’s life that was provided by the parent. Usually, the experimenter would start by saying, “Your mommy told me about the time when you were (X) years old, and you were climbing on the jungle gym on the local playground, and you missed one of the bars, and you fell and broke one of your arms..”, or some type of plausible event of the like, and the child would respond eagerly to his/her bravery through the event. The true events included anything from going to the hospital, getting a new pet, breaking a bone, or significant birthday parties.

During the second week, the experimenter would continue to get acquainted with the child, but always go back to the real story that the parent had provided to reinforce the child to talk about it, and admit it was true.

On the third week of the experiment, the experimenter continued to go back to the true story from the child’s past, but this time, she introduced a new story into the child’s repertoire. This time the experimenter introduced the new story by saying, “You know your mommy told me about another thing that has happened to you. She said that once you and her had gone shopping in (name of local department store), and you were about (X) years old. You and your mom were in the clothes section, and she turned around and you were gone. You must have been really scared because it took her a long time to find

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you, and she said that when she found you, you were crying, and you said that this big lady tried to steal you away. What do you remember?”

If the child could not remember anything about this event, the experimenter would prompt the child to “think real hard” about it to recall any information. Again, this story was reinforced during the rest of the sessions along with the true story from the week before.

During week four, the experimenter extended his reinforcement of the true and false stories. In the younger group (aged 3 to 5), it was found that the children would readily agree with the experimenter on both stories and often make up other stories to go along with the false story, and also add extended details. In the older group (aged 6 to 8) the children had difficulty recalling the falsely suggested event, but by the end of the sessions, they could recall the information of the event, but some of the children were reluctant to believe that the event actually happened to them.

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Pezdek, K. & Hodge, D. (1999) Planting false childhood memories in children: The role of event plausibility. Child Development, 70, 887-895.

McBrien, C. & Dagenbach, D. (1998) The contributions of source misattributions, acquiesce, and response bias to children’s false memories. American Journal of Psychology, 111, 509-528.

Brainerd, C.J. & Mojardin, A.H. (1998) Children’s and adults’ spontaneous false memories: Long-term persistence and mere-testing effects. Child Development, 69, 1361-1377.


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