There are a wide variety of factors that can influence and/or create distortions of memory. In ‘Individual Differences in Susceptibility to False Memory in the Deese-Roediger-McDermott Paradigm’, Watson et al. (2005) note that false memories specific to the DRM paradigm may result from a failure in attention control that help to differentiate the given words from associated but non-presented words. For example, when given a list of related words to recall, participants often recalled related words that were not part of the original list, resulted in false recall (Watson et al., 2005). This could be alleviated through warnings given regarding the likelihood of false recall; this can aid during the encoding stage as the participants focus more aptly on the specific words given to avoid false recall (Watson et al., 2005).
The salience effect is another influence on a person’s memory. This refers to the degree to which memory is affected by a person’s individual processing that results in particular stimuli becoming more obvious -or salient- than other stimuli (Fine & Minnery, 2009). This goes back to attention again; the more likely an individual is to pay close attention to an object (consciously or unconsciously through bottom-up processing), in this case due to its saliency rather than prior warning, the better memory performance they are likely to have (Fine & Minnery, 2009).
Another factor that may influence memory is age. Rhodes et al. (2021) conducted experiments to determine whether age played a role in the effectiveness of working memory, and if so, at what stage. The determination was that even when the tasks were altered to reflect the individuals abilities, there was a drop in recall abilities in the older adults versus the younger adults (Rhodes et al., 2021). They suggest that further research could indicate that it is the disruption of the “active maintenance in working memory” which requires deeper search and retrieval from secondary memory (Rhodes et al., 2021, p. 210).
Trauma can also affect a person’s memory, however, the exact manner in which this can happen is still debated. ‘Traumatic amnesia’ or ‘dissociated memory’ refers to the concept of an individual having supressed or forgotten traumatic memories (often of abuse/sexual abuse) only to recover them later in life (Loftus & Davis, 2006). This is widely debated as to its verifiability due to studies not being able to meet the full three criteria of verifying whether a) abuse did actually happen, b) this memory was actually forgotten and unreachable for some time and c) this memory was later retrieved (Loftus & Davis, 2006).
Loftus and Davis (2006) also go on to discuss the plasticity of autobiographical memory and the research that has been conducted in this field. The power of suggestion – telling individuals that a (false) event occurred and assuring them they have details from family members has led to instances of false autobiographical memory, later ‘recalled’ when interviewed by the researcher. These implanted memories have been shown to have potential lasting effects, including avoidance of foods that a participant was told once made them sick as a child, which demonstrates the strength of suggestion in creating or distorting memories (Loftus & Davis, 2006).
An example of this is a situation that happened in Florida in 1988. In Stuart, Florida law enforcement officers thought they had found a satanic cult operating out of a children’s school. Evidence came from the victims themselves – the children. However, it was suggested that the abuse was so horrific that the children had repressed it and therefore could only remember it under hypnosis. Though the first accounts of their experiences at this school were pleasant, after some sessions the children began to recall oddities including satanic ceremonies, sexual abuse and torture. Arrests were made, namely the school owner and his wife. Later, it was discovered that a psychologist doing the hypnosis of the children was sued for implanting memories. This, along with the nationwide satanic panic of the 1980s-90s resulted in false memories derived from the power of suggestion. (Vance, 2016).
Memory distortions in the context of eyewitness testimony can lead to false arrests and convictions of innocent people, as exemplified in both this week’s reading example and my given example. If there was a crime that occurred, this then results in the person at fault not being arrested and going free. Further, the implications of distorted memories in eyewitness testimony can implicate any other testimony from that eyewitness, if parts of the memories are proven untrue. It is important to realize that all people are affected by imperfect memories, and this does not change when under oath on a witness stand.
Fine, M. S. & Minnery, B. S. (2009). Visual Salience Affects Performance in a Working Memory Task. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(25), 8016-8021. DOI: 10.15323/JNEUROSCI.5503-08.2009
Loftus, E. F., & Davis, D. (2006). Recovered memories. Annual Reviews of Clinical Psychology, 2, 469–498.
Rhodes, S., Doherty, J. M., Jaroslawska, A. J., Forsberg, A., Belletier, C., Naveh-Benjamin, M., Cowan, N., Barrouillet, P., Camos, V., & Logie, R. H. (2021). Exploring the influence of temporal factors on age differences in working memory dual task costs. Psychology and Aging, 36(2), 200–213. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1037/pag0000531.supp
Vance, E. (2016, November 22). Remembering Childhood Trauma That Never Happened. The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2016/11/remembering-childhood-trauma-and-abuse-that-never-happened.html.
Watson, J. M., Bunting, M. F., Poole, B. J., & Conway, A. R. (2005). Individual differences in susceptibility to false memory in the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(1), 76–85.