Monday, April 8, 2013

How Easy It Is To Alter A Memory

For this blogpost, I really wanted to read about the original experiment. Memories, and how easily they seem to differ between person to person, even they are memories from the same moment in time, has always fascinated me.

In Elizabeth Loftus' experiment report she talked about 4 experiments she did in order to see how you could effect a group of peoples memories about a movie by the way you worded questions right after a movie and after sometime has passed after the movie. Each experiment had the test groups watching different videos; some about car accidents, others about student demonstrators, etc. After the video was over, the people had to fill out questionnaires. In every experiment half of the questionnaires were different from the other half. What was changed throughout the questionnaires was either an different object being mentioned or even just changing articles in the wording of the questions like switching "a" with "the".

 For example, in experiment number 3, 150 students watched a video showing a car crash. The critical question in the questionnaire after was worded two different ways. On half of the students test, they were asked how fast the sports car was going when it passed the barn. The other half was asked how fast the sports car was going. There was never a barn in the scene. A week later the students had to fill out another questionnaire that had one question asking if they had seen a barn. 17% of the people with the word barn in there original questionnaire said that they had seen a barn. Only 2% of the people who took the questionnaire without  the word barn said that they had seen one. This is probably because the people with the first questionnaire saw the word barn the week before and their mind remembered the word being put into their head the week before which allowed them to believe that they did indeed see a barn when they actually did not.

By putting words or ideas into peoples head just by the way you word a question, you can really effect the way they remember the one event. It was pretty obvious throughout all 4 experiments that the peope that were given false information right after the video, even though they saw it themselves, chose to believe that the information was true and they allowed it to affect their memories.

This can be a problem in any social situation, especially with all the bias' that was have as humans everyday. If I talk badly to a friend about another person, my friend will probably now have a bad feeling towards them, even if they met them once. They might even write off that one meeting as a bad one just because of what I have said. This definitely happened to me a lot when I was younger.

One question that came to my head, especially when it came to the experiments were the viewers were shown movies about car accidents was whether or not people were adding objects that weren't actually there because of the wording of the questions or because of what we know about actual road traffic. Like when people were asked if there was a stop sign in the video of experiment two, 53% of the people that had a earlier question mention a stop sign said that there was a stop sign there. This could be because of the question they had earlier in their questionnaire. But couldn't have also been that most people know that at any intersection without a traffic light there would usually be a stop sign, so just from that knowledge they may have assumed one was there not because of the earlier question, just because of all passed experiences in that situation.

Elizabeth Loftus, Leading Questions and the Eye Witness Report, 1975

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