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false memory syndrome




The recollection of seemingly real events, often under therapy, that never in fact happened. In the1980s, following an explosion in reported cases of alien abduction and childhood abuse, most notably in the United States, psychologists began to investigate possible neurological sources of the many claims. A consensus has since emerged that human memory is surprisingly prone to confusing whether an event actually occurred or whether the individual merely heard about it. In particular, psychologists have found that it easy under laboratory conditions to induce people to remember events that never actually took place. In one study, Stephen Ceci of Cornell University and his colleagues asked young children whether each of five events had ever happened to them. Four of the events were real, and the fifth was fictitious – getting their finger caught in a mousetrap and having to go to hospital. Almost all the children correctly remembered the true events, but more than a third also gradually became convinced that the mousetrap incident was also real. By the final week, some children "remembered" elaborate details and continued to insist they were true even after their parents and researchers told them otherwise. Taken together, such laboratory studies strongly suggest that false memories, including many reported recollections of alien abduction, can be planted inadvertently by therapists.


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