A couple of projects show how easy it is to create fake memories

Artist Alasdair Hopwood and the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College are creating an archive of memories — false memories. And one of your false memories could be in there. It's easy enough to acquire one.

Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the UC Irvine, has spent some time coordinating memories. She had experiment subjects come in and look at a little book of life events; three their own, one not. Each event was recounted to the researchers by the subject's relatives. The fourth event, being lost in a shopping mall, was created by the researchers. The relatives merely confirmed that that event had never happened to the subject.

The false event has four parts: an extended period of being lost, crying, being helped by an elderly woman, and being found by a family member. Twenty-nine percent of the subjects remembered the made-up event. Twenty-five percent of them continued to remember the event after being outright told that it was made up, insisting that it happened.

Memory is a surprisingly easy thing to manufacture. Alasdair Hopwood, an artist whose work has danced around memory in the past, put up a site called The False Memory Archive, and is looking for ways to turn the memories collected there into an art project. What exactly the form will take, whether the memories will be grouped into stories or turned into pictures, has yet to be decided.

The Archive is still accepting stories — but why should they have all the fun? Feel free to post your stories of false memories in the comments. I'll get us started. In my family, false memories were so prolific that we developed a stock phrase, "I distinctly remember," to mock each other when our memories differed. One April Fool's day — and in my defense, I was very young at the time — I decided to grease the toilet seat with Vaseline as a prank. That idea is unfortunate at the best of times. Worse than unfortunate when my mother got a little sick at the table and ran into the bathroom putting one hand down on the seat and nearly doing a header into the toilet. She handled it with far better grace than I would have, but her first instinct as to who the culprit was was my brother. To this day, my brother and my mother believe that I waited a whole week before coming forward as the Greaser. I, on the other hand, remember grinning a little and owning up to it right after she started scolding him.

Fortunately, I'm right. I distinctly remember it. So they'll have to hit the False Memory Archive and talk about their erroneous memories.

Image: The National Archives

Via New Scientist and Scientific American.