A group of scientists did an experiment where they were actually able to see the process of memories being rewritten in a person's brain — as a result of peer pressure.
According to a release from Science:
Micah Edelson and colleagues showed volunteers a documentary and then later quizzed them on it while monitoring their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers also shared incorrect answers with the volunteers, telling them that these answers were given by others they had watched the movie with. A large number of participants persistently agreed with the fake memory, even when their original recollections were correct (as shown by a previous quiz). The fMRI results generally showed enhanced activity in the hippocampus and amygdala when the volunteers were making these errors well after the initial viewing of the movie. The persistence of these errors indicates that the test subjects believed they were remembering correctly.
So when your friends tell you that something happened, your memory of it happening may be false, implanted by the power of peer suggestion.
This isn't always the case, though. The researchers found that people sometimes pretend to have a false memory simply in order to conform. The report from Science explains:
In contrast, these brain activity patterns [of memory rewriting] didn't show up in a more short-term scenario, when the volunteers only made the errors while being shown the fake memories. These errors likely represent a more conscious decision to change one's answer in order to conform.
Whether the subject believes what she's saying or not, you've still got strong evidence that peer pressure is enough to convince somebody to remember the past differently.
In a related article in Science, psychologists Henry Roediger and Kathleen McDermott explain that this study offers neurological evidence for something that has long been observed by psychologists:
Memory conformity is the general term for these positive and negative effects. Psychologists distinguish between private conformity (truly believing the conforming response to be one's own) and public conformity (going along with the group, even if you privately believe the group is wrong).
We can even see this kind of memory conformity happening on a social level too. Over time, peer pressure and media coverage can change the way people remember enormous, international events like war or political scandal.
Read the full scientific papers via Science
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