Current Experiment of False Memory


The topic of false memory has been under the scholarly scrutiny for many years. Scholars have managed to experimentally prove that false memory exists and people actually tend to remember the non-existing things. Researchers also consider the role of forewarning in false memory reduction, the role of mood and information familiarity in false memory development. The current experiment examines the research hypotheses related to the previous research findings, analyzes the results in relation to these hypotheses, and present direction for further study of false memory.


Literature Review

The topic of false memory has been the subject of scholarly research for many years. The fact that people tend to either remember the things that did not happen to them or remember what happened to them in a completely different light has made scholars like Roediger III and McDermott (1995) carry out laboratory experiments in the area of false memory. Thus, according to Roediger III and McDermott (1995), people display the increase if false memory rates from experiment to experiment (40% to 55%), and the overall conclusion is that “people remember events that never happened” (p. 803).

Gallo, Roberts, and Seamon (1997) develop Roediger III and McDermott’s idea of false memory and arrive at the empirical conclusion that people still tend to have false memories even after they are instructed and warned to avoid this (p. 276). The important innovative idea is provided to the false memory study by Storbeck and Clore (2005), who argue that mood influences the memory performance, and while positive mood facilitates false memories, being down increases accuracy rates of memory (p. 275). Finally, Brainerd and Reyna (2002) argue about the fuzzy-trace theory that explains the existence of false memories by the lack of focus that research participants might display on the basis of their areas of activity (p. 164). Thus, scholarly research in the area of false memory provides empirical data on false memory existence and tries to explain the reasons for false memories’ appearance.


Drawing from the data provided by previous research in the topic, the current experiment aims at either proving or denying the following research hypotheses:

  1. The existence of false memory can be proved by way of laboratory experiment.
  2. Forewarning does not eliminate the occurrence of false memories.
  3. Person’s mood can affect his/her false memory rates.
  4. Person’s sphere of activity can affect his/her false memory rates regarding the phenomena he/she is not acquainted with.

The above research hypotheses allow carrying out the experimental research and referring to the reputable scholars’ ideas in its progress. As well, the research hypotheses are measurable and testable with the help of the further discussed methodology.



The participants of the described laboratory experiment are 223 people representing the various spheres of human activity, age, sex, and profession. Among the experiment participants there are students, teachers, housewives, drivers, human resources managers, and sales assistants. The participants are divided into two groups according to their awareness of the experiment purpose (Gallo, Roberts, and Seamon, 1997, p. 272). The first group, consisting of equal samples of all professional, sex, and age groups mentioned, has been previously instructed about false memories and need to avoid them. The second group has just been introduced into the research design and instructed to do their best in remembering the largest number of words possible.


The experiment under analysis starts with the brief introduction to the topic of the false memory. After this, the experiment participants are asked to consider 6 sets of 12 words each, and match the further appearing table of 12 words with the words the participants are sure to remember as present in the 12-word sets presented. Next, all results are grouped into three categories including the words in the list, related but not in the list, and unrelated words not found in the list. The final step of the experiment is the analysis of the results and relating them to the previously formulated research hypotheses.


The materials used for the experiment include the primary and secondary ones. The primary materials include the software that enables the researchers to carry out the false memory experiment and analyze the results. As well, the current laboratory report can be referred to as primary material. The secondary materials include the scholarly publications by Roediger III and McDermott (1995), Gallo, Roberts, and Seamon (1997), Storbeck and Clore (2005), and Brainerd and Reyna (2002) that touch upon different aspects of false memory, causes for its development, and ways to reduce its rates.


The procedure of the research includes the following steps. First, the participants of the experiment are introduced to the topic of false memory. Second, every participant from the total sample of 223 people is presented with 6 sets of 12 words to remember and match with the words appearing in a 12-word table after each of the 6 sets. Third, results of every participant are grouped according to three major categories that include the words actually remembered and present in the suggested list, words not listed but related to the list, and not listed and unrelated words mentioned. Finally, the results are related to the experiment hypotheses and the latter are either affirmed or rejected.


The experiment carried out with the sample of 223 participants divided into 2 groups or the purpose-aware and unaware people provided the following results (Table 1):

Table 1. Experiment results for 223 participants’ total (see p. 7)

Factor Average Forewarned Unaware Familiar Unfamiliar
Listed, related 83.2% 83% 73.6% 76.7% 53%
Not listed, related 50% 0% 48% 37% 49%
Not listed, not related 8% 0% 12% 11% 28%

Thus, the results presented in the above table show that the average results and the results of the unaware group are rather close, while the forewarned experiment participants coped with the task of words remembering better and avoided the false memory traps. Also, the people familiar with the areas of activity from which the words are retrieved have shown better remembering rates that those to whom the words are from unfamiliar areas.


Results Interpretation

Thus, the experiment results allow confirming two of the research hypotheses. First, the existence of false memory can actually be proved by way of laboratory experiment as Roediger III and McDermott (1995) noted in their work. Second, person’s sphere of activity can affect his/her false memory rates regarding the phenomena he/she is not acquainted with as argued about by Brainerd and Reyna (2002) and their fuzzy-trace theory. According to Roediger III and McDermott (1995), experiments on false memory prove the fact that people tend to remember the things and event that does not happen to them, and the current experiment results agree with this idea. As well, the results prove that familiarity with the area from which the words are taken, according to Brainerd and Reyna (2002), also reduces false memory rates.


At the same time, the current experiment has considerable limitations. First, the two of the research hypotheses cannot be proved by the experiment. The hypothesis that forewarning does not eliminate the occurrence of false memories (Gallo, Roberts, and Seamon, 1997) not only lacks support but can be disproved by the experiment results, as the forewarned experiment participants displayed zero levels of false memory occurrence compared to 48% and 12% of unlisted related and not related words displayed by the unaware participants. Second, the hypothesis about the effect of mood on false memory rates cannot be proven as the experiment lacks the instruments to find out actual moods of the participants. Finally, the results of the experiment with the sample of 223 people cannot be generalized to wider audiences and need further research with larger scope.

Further Study Directions

Based on the experiment findings and the above stipulated limitations of the research, further study directions can be outlined. First, it is necessary to carry out the false memory experiments with larger scopes and samples to allow greater generalization of the experiment results. Second, the effective techniques for studying the role of mood in false memory study should be designed and implemented. Third, further research is needed on the topic of forewarning role in false memory reduction as previous research by Gallo, Roberts, and Seamon (1997) does not attribute much importance to forewarning, while the current experiment results prove its crucial effect.


Brainerd, C. J. and Reyna, V. F. (2002). Fuzzy-Trace Theory and False Memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 164 – 169.

Gallo, D. A., Roberts, M. J., and Seamon, J. G. (1997). Remembering words not presented in lists: Can we avoid creating false memories? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4(2), 271 – 276.

Roediger III, H. L. and McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating False Memories: Remembering Words Not Presented in Lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(4), 803 – 814.

Storbeck, J. and Clore, G. L. (2005). With Sadness Comes Accuracy; With Happiness, False Memory. Psychological Science, 16(10), 785 – 791.

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