False memory

Among psychologists memory is an interesting topic to study. There are a several studies about how and why memory fails (Loftus & Pickrell, 1995). Long term memory has an unlimited capacity to store amazing variety of information (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). It consist of four major memory systems; semantic memory (memory for facts), episodic memory (memory for events), procedural memory (knowledge for skill actions such as; playing a guitar) and priming (processing a target stimulus by presenting a prior stimulus that is related to it) (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Knowledge in semantic memory consists of schemes that include organized knowledge about the world, event, people or action. These schemes help us to better and easier recall because they group information (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). We use cues for activating schemes. Different cues activate different schemes. However, sometimes activation of schemes in certain situation may lead to false memory (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). False memory indicates memory fails or errors (Loftus & Pickrell, 1995). Having a false memory can change someone’s life therefore; it is very important topic to study. For example; a person might have a false memory about a horrible situation (e.g. rape), in fact, they have never been in that situation.

Loftus and Picrell did a study in 1995 to understand how we deceived by data of a witnessed event (Loftus & Pickrell, 1995). The participants were 24 people. They interviewed with relatives of participants to obtain tree true events that happened in between 4-6 years and got information about a shopping mall that they used to go. After false event created, participants required to write what they remember for each event. Results showed that, 68% of the true events, and the 29% of the false events were remembered. Participant also completed a task about how confident they remember these memories by rating 1-5. The mean confidence rate was 2.2 for true events and 1.4 for false events.

Loftus and Palmer did another study in 1974 to investigate whether changing a word in a question may lead to creation of false memory. In study 1, participants were seen a car accident video and then they answered questions. There were two questions; “how fast were the cars going when they hit each other” and “how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other”. Findings indicated that form of a question changes the answer of that question (Loftus & Palmer, 1974). In study 2, a week later the participants answered “did you see any broken glass?” question, without re-watching the video. Findings were; 16 of the participant said “yes” for word “smashed”, 7 of the participant said “yes” for word “hit” (Loftus & Palmer, 1974).

Past researches showed that people can create false memories. Current study will examine can we have false memory depending on different word conditions, even in words that have just been seen. This study aims to investigate whether related words cause more false memories than unrelated words. It is hypothesized that individuals will recall more destructive words in related word condition than unrelated word condition.



The participants were 23 (19 female and 4 male) EMU 3rd year psychology students in age ranging from 18 to 26.


Cognitive Lab Computer and projector were used for the experiment. Also 40 everyday words ranging in length from 3-10 letters were used.


In a silent environment instructor gave information about the test and told write numbers 1 to 10 on a blank piece of paper, for each condition. Participants were recruited voluntary. In total of 40 words were shown to the participants. Firstly in encoding part they saw 10 related words for 1 second per a word, such as; “tree” and “bird” then in test phase they saw 10 test words for a 5 second per a word, which includes 5 distractor words. Distractor word indicates the words that are not presented in encoding part but presented in test phase. In test phase the participants were required to put a tick for the words they remembered from encoding part. The same procedure was done with the unrelated words. After completing the tasks participants are told to score as 1 point for each distractor word that they remembered. Data collected and put into SPSS to do a paired sample T test.


A paired sample T test with alpha set at 0.05 was conducted to investigate the mean differences between words conditions (related words vs. unrelated words) in recall of distractor words. Independent variables were word conditions (related vs. unrelated) and the dependent variable was recall of distractor words. Results showed no significant difference between conditions (related vs. unrelated) on distractor word recall.

It has been shown that individuals do not recall more distractor words when the distractor words related to each other (M=21.3, SD=21.6) than when the distractor words unrelated (M=18.3, SD=18.7).


It is hypothesized that individuals recall more distractor words when the words related to each other than when the words unrelated. The findings of current study did not support the hypothesis. It was found that there was no significant difference between word conditions in distractor word recall. Basically, when participants seen related words, they did not recall more distractor words or they did not make more false memories than when they saw unrelated words. In past research, Loftus and Palmer found that, there was a significant difference in people’s responses via using different words to ask questions (Loftus & Palmer, 1974), although both studies used different word conditions to create a false memory, current study did not find significant differences between word conditions.

In other study, Loftus and Picrell found that individuals can be led to believe false memories after suggesting they may have. Previous and current study are similar in testing accurance of false memory but current study found that both word conditions were similar depending on means of scores. Limitation of current study is individuals’ ability to create a scheme. Participants could create schemes for each condition and this makes both conditions equal. According to our findings, using related word does not help to create more false memory. Future research may use unfamiliar words or words that hard to create a scheme and see whether people still create false memories.


Eysenck, M. W., Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive Psychology (7th edition). New York: Psychology Press.

Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behaviour, 13(5), 585-589.

Loftus, E. F., & Pickrell, J. E. (1995). The formation of false memories. Psychiatric annals, 25(12), 720-725.

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