A false memory is one in which a person believes something happened when in fact it did not. For example, you may falsely remember that you had lasagne with your dinner yesterday when in fact it was spaghetti bolognese. False memories are mostly harmless but in some cases they can have considerable ramifications, for example, in the legal arena.
Recent research has shown that under specific conditions, adults and older children can have more false memories than younger primary school children. This has been shown in studies that used the DRM-Paradigm below.
In the DRM paradigm, adults and children study lists of words that are associated with a nonpresented word, namely the "critical lure". For example, hot, snow, warm, winter, ice, and so forth all are associated with the critical lure cold. Despite never hearing the word cold, some people falsely recollect cold along with correctly remembering list items that were presented. Interestingly, adults and older children are more likely to falsely remember "cold" than younger primary school children.
Our research uses different formats of the DRM-paradigm and focuses on two questions:
- Why do adults and older children have more false memories than younger children? Our recent findings suggest that spontaneous false memories may be a result of associative activation processes. Children's false memories increase with age because associative activation becomes more efficient.
- Do adults' and children's false memories also differ qualitatively? Our findings suggest that there is a qualitative difference in young children's and adults' false memories. Specifically, children's false memories appear to be less robust than adults'. These findings may have implications on the legal arena where children are used as eye-witnesses.
Wimmer, M. C., & Howe, M. L. (2010). Are children’s memory illusions created differently than adults’? Evidence from levels-of-processing and divided attention paradigms. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 107, 31-49.
Wimmer, M. C., & Howe, M. L. (2009). The development of automatic associative processes and children’s false memories. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104, 447-465.
Howe, M. L., Wimmer, M. C., Gagnon, N., & Plumpton, S. (2009). An associative-activation theory of children’s and adults’ memory illusions. Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 229-251.