50% People “remember” false stories that never happened if they support their preconceived ideas

Remembering is believing, right?

Not really.

We have always known that people remember things that they agree with, and forget things that are inconvenient for them. However, here is some research that proves that people can “remember” completely made up events.

Here is the scary abstract of the research paper:

In the largest false memory study to date, 5,269 participants were asked about their memories for three true and one of five fabricated political events. Each fabricated event was accompanied by a photographic image purportedly depicting that event. Approximately half the participants falsely remembered that the false event happened, with 27% remembering that they saw the events happen on the news. Political orientation appeared to influence the formation of false memories, with conservatives more likely to falsely remember seeing Barack Obama shaking hands with the president of Iran, and liberals more likely to remember George W. Bush vacationing with a baseball celebrity during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. A follow-up study supported the explanation that events are more easily implanted in memory when they are congruent with a person’s preexisting attitudes and evaluations, in part because attitude-congruent false events promote feelings of recognition and familiarity, which in turn interfere with source attributions.

Let me repeat the most important points for effect:

  • The study involved 5000+ participants, so there is little chance of it being a few weirdos. This probably applies to “most of us”
  • Half the people “remembered” an even that had never taken place
  • 27% of the people remembered “seeing” the event on the news – an event that never took place
  • People were more likely to “remember” false events that agreed with their preconceived notions / political leanings

With the rise of social media putting an increasingly harsh spotlight on every action by every political leader, can we feel happier that the truth is more likely to come out? I would argue that social media just makes it easier to manipulate people…

Check out the original paper if you’re interested, and the related reddit discussion.