Jul 26 2013

Implanting False Memories – Sort Of

I never pass up an opportunity to remind people of the weaknesses and flaws of human memory. It is perhaps the most widespread and persistent delusion that our memories are reliable sources of information.

A new study in mice attempts to create false memories of experiences the mice never had. False memories are one of the major flaws of memory. Memory is not a simple process of encoding, storage, and recall. Rather, memories are actively constructed. In this sense, all memories are “false.”

We construct and reconstruct our memories every time we recall the memory. This process is susceptible to suggestion, confabulation, fusion of details, bias and distortion.

What the researchers in the current study did was put mice in a blue box and looked at the pattern of brain cells that activated. They then tagged those cells so that they would respond to a certain frequency of light by firing. They then put the mice in a red room, activated their blue room memory cells, then shocked their feet. They then put them back into the blue room, at which time the mice had a fear reaction. The implication is that they associated the shocks with the blue room, even though they occurred in the red room.

The reason for the “sort of” caveat in the title is that the memory of the shocks is not false, only their association with the blue room. Still, it’s an interesting technique. I’m now sure if this will have practical applications in humans, but it may be a useful research tool.

I also like pointing out what should be obvious – that this study (like thousands of other studies) supports the conventional view that our minds are our brains. Memories are nothing but the firing of clusters of brain cells. You can manipulate the mind by manipulating the brain.

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Implanting False Memories – Sort Of”

  1. Sawyeron 26 Jul 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Now for the next step – can we convince mice that they participated in satanic rituals? And will mice ostracize their fellow demon-worshiper rodents that confess their horrible past?

  2. pseudonymoniaeon 26 Jul 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Completely agree. It’s a neat trick, but there is little evidence that a “false memory” was created in the sense that the term is usually meant.

    The best evidence for this? Animals froze only about 30% of the time with this new technique in the “false” room (which is still cool, the other animals barely froze at all), but a different group froze ~75% of the time in the “real” room.

    This shouldn’t be surprising, as the “false memory” only consisted of activating a subset of the cells involved in the perception of a real experience (a fraction of cells in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, ignoring additional hippocampal cells and the rest of the brain).

  3. petrucioon 27 Jul 2013 at 2:58 am

    Spellcheck: “I’m now sure” = “I’m not sure”

  4. etatroon 29 Jul 2013 at 2:24 am

    I had a vivid imagination as a child and as an adult, some of my early childhood memories are of my fantasies and day dreams and they seem just as real as the memories of events that actually occurred (which have documentation). I’ve also intentionally forgotten information … Discovered by accident personal information about a friend, knowing that said friend chose not to tell me, was able to “forget” the discovery for a long time; until after friend shared info, and only reflection of the conversation, remembered the discovery months in the past. Personal anecdotes like this and findings from neuroscience make me question much of my concocted view of the world.

  5. Bill Openthalton 29 Jul 2013 at 6:31 am

    … the conventional view that our minds are our brains.

    This might be the conventional (“Based on or in accordance with general agreement, use, or practice“) view in neurology and neurobiology, but it is probably not the view of the majority of humans. Almost all the people I interact with firmly hold that the mind transcends the “mere” functioning of the brain.

  6. Josh Hedgepethon 29 Jul 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Exactly how did they tag or go about activating said cells?

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