Top 5 Ways False Memories are Formed

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by: Jennifer Horton
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The brain is a mystery in many ways -- including the fact that it sometimes causes you to form false memories.

Most of us remember profound events in our lives, whether it's seeing Bugs Bunny at Disney World or watching footage of the 2005 terrorist attacks in London. We even recall mundane things, like playing with Play-Doh in preschool.

The only problem is, none of these memories is possible: Bugs Bunny is not a Disney character, video footage of the bombing doesn't exist and the brains of children under the age of three aren't yet capable of storing long-term memories [source: Ridgway].

Yet the mere suggestion that having these memories is normal, if not expected, likely had you probing your memory for some recollection. Suggestion and expectation are just two factors that can contribute to the creation of such so-called false memories. These erroneous recollections may involve the confusion of key details, like time and place, or they may be made up entirely.

Memory is constantly being shaped by our feelings, knowledge and beliefs, so the memories we pull out often look nothing like the individual pieces we put in. It may even be that accuracy isn't memory's primary goal. Rather, since memory is often used as a tool that guides future actions, reconstructing it like we do may enable us to make better decisions [source: Dingfelder].

Many of the brain processes responsible for memory inaccuracies can actually help us to store greater quantities of information, but that ability comes at a price. Though memory is what makes it possible for you to know how to whip up a quick batch of eggs and get to work in the morning, it can go wrong in any number of ways. Let's look at five ways our brains form false memories.

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