You can be convinced that you committed a crime you never did

Would you believe me if I told you I could make you think you had committed a crime you never did?[1] [2]

Don’t take my word for it, but the scientists who’ve demonstrated it.

To understand how this is possible, we must begin with the importance of stories. There’s a reason you and I like stories; it’s because this is how our mind is programmed to perceive the world. It turns out that the way we form memories is pretty close to a story.

When you remember an event, there’s no way you can take it all in, so your brain takes a shortcut. Using key details, it pieces together a story that makes sense. And the details get fuzzier every time you remember a memory. 

When you remember an event in your life, you do not remember that event. Instead, you remember the last time you remembered it. In other words, you remember the memory and not the event.

As long as the story makes sense, you or anyone else can manipulate your memory to believe something that never happened – crimes you never committed.

This is what the researcher Julia Shaw had to say after carrying out a study exploring the potential for false memory.

“All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is three hours in a friendly interview environment, where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory-retrieval techniques.”


If that didn’t shock you, look at the findings below.

Of the 30 participants who were told they had committed a crime as a teenager, 21 (71%) were classified as having developed a false memory of the crime; of the 20 who were told about an assault of some kind (with or without a weapon), 11 reported elaborate false memory details of their exact dealings with the police.


False memories aren’t, “maybe you’re right; maybe I did do it.” It’s more like, “yes, this is what I did and here is how I did it.” The participants began to create imagined memories of their crimes. Crimes that never happened.

A story only needs to make sense to be true. Never be afraid to question the stories you hear throughout your life.

Published in Science, Learning, life lessons, Psychology
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