June
2001 
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New Evidence Shows False Memories Can Be Created
 

This item from another newsgroup may be of interest:

Source: University Of Washington (http://www.washington.edu/)

"I Tawt I Taw" A Bunny Wabbit At Disneyland: New Evidence Shows
False Memories Can Be Created

About one-third of the people who were exposed to a fake print
advertisement that described a visit to Disneyland and how they
met and shook hands with Bugs Bunny later said they remembered
or knew the event happened to them.

The scenario described in the ad never occurred because Bugs
Bunny is a Warner Bros. cartoon character and wouldn't be
featured in any Walt Disney Co. property, according to
University of Washington memory researchers Jacquie Pickrell and
Elizabeth Loftus. Pickrell will make two presentations on the
topic at the annual meeting of the American Psychological
Society (APS) on Sunday (June 17) in Toronto and at a satellite
session of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and
Cognition in Kingston, Ontario, on Wednesday.

"The frightening thing about this study is that it suggests how
easily a false memory can be created," said Pickrell, UW
psychology doctoral student.

"It's not only people who go to a therapist who might implant a
false memory or those who witness an accident and whose memory
can be distorted who can have a false memory. Memory is very
vulnerable and malleable. People are not always aware of the
choices they make. This study shows the power of subtle
association changes on memory."

The research is a follow-up to an unpublished study by Loftus, a
UW psychology professor who is being honored by the APS this
week with its William James Fellow Award for psychological
research; Kathryn Braun, a visiting scholar at the Harvard
Business School; and Rhiannon Ellis, a former UW undergraduate
who is now a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.
In the original study, 16 percent of the people exposed to a
Disneyland ad featuring Bugs Bunny later thought they had seen
and met the cartoon rabbit.

In the new research, Pickrell and Loftus divided 120 subjects
into four groups. The subjects were told they were going to
evaluate advertising copy, fill out several questionnaires and
answer questions about a trip to Disneyland.

The first group read a generic Disneyland ad that mentioned no
cartoon characters. The second group read the same copy and was
exposed to a 4-foot-tall cardboard figure of Bugs Bunny that was
casually placed in the interview room. No mention was made of
Bugs Bunny. The third, or Bugs group, read the fake Disneyland
ad featuring Bugs Bunny. The fourth, or double, exposure group
read the fake add and also saw the cardboard rabbit.

This time 30 percent of the people in the Bugs group later said
they remembered or knew they had met Bugs Bunny when they
visited Disneyland and 40 percent of the people in the double
exposure group reported the same thing.

"'Remember' means the people actually recall meeting and shaking
hands with Bugs," explained Pickrell. "'Knowing' is they have no
real memory, but are sure that it happened, just as they have no
memory of having their umbilical cord being cut when they were
born but know it happened.

"Creating a false memory is a process. Someone saying, 'I know
it could have happened,' is taking the first step of actually
creating a memory. If you clearly believe you walked up to Bugs
Bunny, you have a memory."

In addition, Pickrell said there is the issue of the consequence
of false memories or the ripple effects. People in the
experiment who were exposed to the false advertising were more
likely to relate Bugs Bunny to other things at Disneyland not
suggested in the ad, such as seeing Bugs and Mickey Mouse
together or seeing Bugs in the Main Street Electrical Parade.

"We are interested in how people create their autobiographical
references, or memory. Through this process they might be
altering their own memories," she said. "Nostalgic advertising
works in a similar manner. Hallmark, McDonald's and Disney have
very effective nostalgic advertising that can change people's
buying habits. You may not have had a great experience the last
time you visited Disneyland or McDonald's, but the ads may be
inadvertently be creating the impression that they had a
wonderful time and leaving viewers with that memory. If ads can
get people to believe they had an experience they never had,
that is pretty powerful.

"The bottom line of our study is that the phony ad is making the
difference. Just casually reading a Bugs Bunny cartoon or some
other incidental exposure doesn't mean you believe you met Bugs.
The ad does."
 
 
 

June 2001 
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