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Metamemory: False memory Report

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Updated: Sep 21st, 2019


Memory is a very vital human tool without which many of cognitive processes cannot take place. Humans rely on memory to recount the past and help forge the future. However, at times the human memory is vulnerable to errors in that individuals can claim to report what they think took place when in reality it did not.

This could be as a result of outside pressures, great expectations or misleading perceptions. This essay presents a report on the controversial concept of false memory in which an experiment was conducted across a number of participants. Words were displayed and later the observers were expected to report what they recall.

The rate at which the observers included nonexistent words in their recollection of the initial study list was explored and represented in the experiment. This error was represented through percentages and tables. The idea that individuals are more often incapable of differentiating the memory of an actual happening from that of their perceived nonexistent one is also discussed.

This false memory is a result of machinations, illusions and metamemorial aspects. The consequences of such a procedure and their relation to the cognitive theory are also mentioned.

Metamemory -False memory experiment

The most fundamental aspect of any cognitive theory is the accuracy of a recollection or a memory. This is due to the fact that to some extent, almost all dimensions of the cognitive process are based on memory (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002, p. 166).

Thus, in order to comprehend the problem solving, decision making, contemplation and discernment processes, it becomes necessary to understand the capabilities of the memory and how far it can go without losing its edge.

Precise and good memory is thus not only significant for practical purposes but also for important events in life that rely on human perceptions such as getting reliable witness accounts on judicial matters. Memory enables us recall our past, be it personal or pertaining to society and by so doing it helps us establish our position and role in the society.

Metamemory refers to both an individual’s cognitive abilities, including how memory operates, its components, approaches that can assist the memory, and the cognitive developments that are part of an individual memory self-regulation (Pannu & Kaszniak, 2005, p. 106).

This way, individuals are able to know and discover how to capitalize on their memories during emotionally and cognitively straining situations or stringent circumstances. While considering the past, individuals rely on their personal recollections and what people around them say about their past.

However, many a time our memories experience inconsistencies and oversights. These could be manifested in inaccurate recollection of events or even total loss of knowledge concerning a certain detail or event.

For instance, people may claim to recall something that never existed or happened in reality and sometimes people may agree on stories that never happened. Therefore, metamemory may encompass recalling things that never happened, or recalling them incorrectly as opposed to how they actually took place.

Various factors have been attributed to this trend; for instance being emotionally associated with an issue, predictions and alterations in the surroundings (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002, p. 165). False information impacted on an individual, misrepresenting the original source of knowledge and the prevalence of other memories do obstruct one’s memory disposition, causing the individual to recall mistaken or completely inaccurate memories.

Unfortunately, there is no proven way to objectively analyze the correctness of memory. The subject of metamemory, especially the topic on false memories, has been an issue of controversy among many researchers and psychologists. Research shows that it is very easy to suggestively impact false memory, which grows clearer with time to the extent that it is perceived as true recollection.

At the same time, memories tend to fade or grow fuzzy with age while sometimes the initial memory can be altered to accommodate new knowledge or events (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002, p. 63). Nevertheless, it does not matter how well and confidently an individual recollects an event as that is no basis for the truth (Pannu & Kaszniak, 2005, p. 121).

The point is not all memories are incorrect though most only come close to being accurate. However, in situations requiring preciseness of detail, memories should not be relied upon solely to establish a fact regardless of how the reporter deems their memory status to be.

Previously, studies aimed at assessing the effects of false memories. However, nowadays they are consistently focusing on their growing prevalence, which has proved to be disturbing. An experiment was carried out to illustrate a procedure that prejudices individuals into recalling events that never took place in the first instance.

These kinds of memories are known as false memories. False memories, also known as confabulation and they describe the remembrance of incorrect particulars pertaining to an event or recalling an instant that never really took place. According to Roediger and McDermott (1995), this is a common life phenomenon affecting both children and adults where for instance a situation is planted in one’s life making them believe they went through it and where participants claim the situation took place when in reality it never did (p. 802).


The experiment was conducted to establish a common memory mistake in which the observer was supposed to view and recall some words.

In accordance with the memory experiment as propounded by Roediger and McDermott (1995), a sequence of words with regular distractors and semantically related distractors was verbally or visually presented one at a time for one and a half seconds each (p. 804). These distractors are also known as the critical lure.

The answer buttons were marked with words from the sequence and distractors that were not anywhere on the list. The observer was asked to establish or categorize the words among a number of distractors by clicking on the buttons. The aim of the experiment was to find out the kind of distractor the observer remembered the most.

There were dependent and independent variables in the experiment. The independent variables were characterized by the kind of word put to test on the list, a distractor that bore no relationship to the word and connected distractor. Dependent variables were characterized by the percentage of every word reported, that is the percentage of original word selected, the normal distractors selected and the themed distractors chosen.


It was anticipated that the subject would recount the connected distractors frequently. It is assumed that individuals tend to sometimes report what did not exist in the first place. Compared to other memory experiments, this particular study’s progressions were particularly configured in a manner that observers were led to be biased in their observations and were influenced to present a certain word that was not part of the classified words.

The item type included the original list and critical lures such as ‘sleep, ‘sweet’, ‘and needle ’,‘ chair ’,‘ mountain’, ‘rough’. From the frequency percentage table presented, it was established that individual results in the experiment indicated no deviations from the standard expectations as no subject reported any distractions from the real words despite the fact that related words were present from the beginning. The individuals significantly remembered the presented list items.


The experiment sought to establish false memory in humans. The experiment tested individuals’ ability to recall correctly. Compared to the global memory expectations, the original words ought to remain the same upon recollection, that is100 percent. Similarly, there should be no reports whatsoever of the normal or special distractors.

As predicted, from the experiment’s descriptive statistics, the results of individual subjects are similar to those of the class and the general global expectations. This is illustrated in the lack of deviation from the original words. All the words in the presented sequence were reported.

At the same time, despite the presence of distractors and the knowledge of their existence, the subjects did not confuse them with the initial words from the list.

Therefore, had the observers declared a forged deviation, they would have been experiencing a false memory. A false memory is a distorted account of facts or an imagination. It can be described as recount or a normal distractor or a special distractor. This is based on the premise that the special or normal distractor will be reported repeatedly despite the fact that it was not part of the sequence (Roediger & McDermott, 1995, p. 810).

This is a common occurrence among children but quite a common and disturbing phenomenon among adults too. Sometimes, individuals can relate that they clearly remember having seen or heard the word. However, despite the fact that the words provided are connected to the distractor, the individuals still did not deviate from the original words.

These results demonstrate that the individuals possess a strong memory as their judgments were not erroneous. Had individual reports deviated from the class mean and global expectations, it would mean that individuals more often than not report related distractors. This could arise because quite a number of factors such as emotions and previous knowledge or related memories (Read, 1996, p. 134).

Thus while being tested; an individual is more likely to think about the distractors at the time when the original items are being displayed. This is simply because one remembers thinking about the word and assumes it was a result of seeing or hearing the word being presented when in reality they had just thought about the word.


In conclusion, the human memory is a very powerful tool. It is a fundamental human ability to recollect knowledge that is stored inside from the past experiences. The learning process depends on it and so do other cognitive processes that determine our existence. Its usefulness however depends on its ability to remain accurate and objective.

However, humans are fallible and consequently, they may believe, not necessarily with a malicious intention, that their recollection is always sound. Memories are often mixed up with some aspects of it being precise and truthful while another part is not entirely true. Thus establishing the distinction between the two diverse recollections is quite a tasking undertaking.

Thus false memory is a condition where an actual event is misrepresented or confused with some other element that may have occurred at the same time or never at all. They are consequences of fallacious origin of a memory, fantasies or misleading accounts from other participants implanted in an individual’s memory as true when in actuality they are not (Brainerd & Reyna, 2002, p. 158).

In spite of the reasons for false memory, the phenomenon is quite widespread and replicable among many individuals. While there is no universally approved methodology of determining the accuracy of memory, research indicates that memory is not all that dependable owing to various internal and external mechanisms that create illusory memories.

As a result, individuals are susceptible to false memories in which they are biased towards presenting things that did not exist in the first place or provide twisted accounts of an actual event. As a result, memory alone cannot be entrusted to ascertain truths or facts as it is not reliable. However, future undertakings are still necessary to ascertain the differences between actual memory and false memory.


Brainerd, C. J., & Reyna, V. F. (2002). Fuzzy-Trace Theory and False Memory. American Psychological Society, 11(5), 164- 169.

Pannu, J. K., & Kaszniak, A. W. (2005). Metamemory experiments in neurological populations: A review. Neuropsychology Review, 15, 105-130.

Read, J. D. (1996). From a passing thought to a false memory in 2 minutes: Confusing real and illusory events in Seamon, J.G., Luo, C. R., Schlegel, S. E., Greene, S. E. & Goldenberg, A.B. (2002). False Memory for Categorized Pictures and Words: The Category Associates Procedure for Studying Memory Errors in Children and Adults. Journal of memory and language, 42(1), 120-146.

Roediger, H. L., III, & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory & Cognition, 21, 803–814.

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