The purpose of this article is to examine the causes of false memory and memory distortion. Memory is influenced, in combination, by encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. This article expands upon each factor, in turn, and how it specifically affects memory. Key Concepts, Tenets, and/or Findings
Declarative memory is long-term memory that can be divided into two parts: semantic memory and episodic memory. Semantic memory, composed of facts, is relatively static, but episodic memory, remembering an event, is more susceptible to distortions and unconscious changes. Human memory is not precise because of the influences of prior knowledge and emotions, but the result of false memory is also caused by the three-step cognitive system of encoding, consolidation, and retrieval.
At its simplest, encoding is the initial perception of an event. False memories as a result of encoding have been hypothesized to happen due to similarities between imagined and perceived events. In other words, the brain remembers something it made up as something that really occurred because it wrote the false memory the same way that it writes real memories. Memories that are encoded correctly can still be distorted during consolidation. New information and sleep build neural circuits that alter true memories, not necessarily matching the original encoding. Lack of sleep causes reduced source and reality monitoring which encourages false memories since the brain cannot decipher between real and imagination. When old memories are changed by misleading post-event information (MPI), it is called retroactive interference, as opposed to proactive interference when older memories manipulate newer memories. Because it is difficult to...