Emotional Content of True and False Memories
Reed College, Psychology
Elizabeth F. Loftus
University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior; University of California, Irvine School of Law
September 8, 2010
Memory, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 500-516, 2008
UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-18
Many people believe that emotional memories (including those that arise in therapy) are particularly likely to represent true events because of their emotional content. But is emotional content a reliable indicator of memory accuracy? The current research assessed the emotional content of participants' pre-existing (true) and manipulated (false) memories for childhood events. False memories for one of three emotional childhood events were planted using a suggestive manipulation and then compared, a long several subjective dimensions, with other participants' true memories. On most emotional dimensions (e.g., how emotional was this event for you?), true and false memories were indistinguishable. On a few measures (e.g., intensity of feelings at the time of the event), true memories were more emotional than false memories in the aggregate, yet true and false memories were equally likely to be rated as uniformly emotional. These results suggest that even substantial emotional content may not reliably indicate memory accuracy.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 3, 2008 ; Last revised: September 11, 2010
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