Young researcher: on false memories

14:44, 06 January, 2016
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Kristine-Sneidere-leadKristīne Šneidere is a first year student of the professional Master’s study programme “Health Psychology” of the Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare of Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). Before commencing Master’s studies, she elaborated her Bachelor’s thesis Adaptation of the Deese–Roediger–McDermott Paradigm in Latvia in the study programme “Psychology” with associate professor Kristīne Mārtinsone, Head of the Department of Health Psychology and Paedagogy of the Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare, as the scientific supervisor.

Kristīne Šneidere on the choice of the topic: “I found out about false memories quite by accident, while analysing research in the study course on cognitive psychology. The fact that the human memory is not a literal record of information, but is subject to internal, as well as external manipulations fascinated me, so I decided that I would like my future research to be connected to this area. Until now, there was no instrument available in Latvia for the research of false memories, so the choice to make the adaptation was logical.”

Research of false memories was made topical by the revelation of the vulnerability of memory, namely, there is a variety of mechanisms that can affect the way we interpret and then store information. One of these mechanisms is associative illusions; this mechanism is based on the activation and observation structure theory. According to this theory, information in the brain is interconnected in a semantic network and, by activating a single network segment, the entire network is activated. For example, hearing the word “ice” activates the semantic network that contains all the words that are related to one of the semantic or associative properties of “ice”, such as “cold” or “winter”. When the network is activated, the observation process begins, during which it is evaluated, which piece of information activated the network. The Deese–Roediger–McDermott paradigm studies this mechanism of false memories.

Under the study, an experiment was conducted, where lists of 18 words were played to the participants. There were 15 inter-associative or semantically related words in each list. After listening to the words, the participants had to complete retrieval and recognition tasks. The original purpose – research of false memories – was not revealed to the participants. Results showed that nearly half of participants of the retrieval task and 80% of participants of the recognition task mentioned a word that was not played to them, but it was semantically or associatively linked to the played words, respectively, a false memory was created. The results of two groups (students of psychology and management science) were compared, and it was concluded that the creation of a false memory might be associated not only with the mutual associative strength of the words, but also with personality characteristics. Compiled results of the study also pointed at the observation process as a factor in the creation of false memories.