Emotional Content of True and False Memories

Memory, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 500-516, 2008

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-18

18 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2008 Last revised: 11 Sep 2010

Cara Laney

Reed College, Psychology

Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior; University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: September 8, 2010

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Laney, Cara and Loftus, Elizabeth F., Emotional Content of True and False Memories (September 8, 2010). Memory, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 500-516, 2008; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1276481

Cara Laney

Reed College, Psychology ( email )

3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Portland, OR 97202
United States
503/517-7489 (Phone)

Elizabeth F. Loftus (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Psychology and Social Behavior ( email )

4201 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697-7085
United States

University of California, Irvine School of Law

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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