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I promise you really said that!

Posted by on October 19, 2012

Biology Week memory gameBy Rebecca Nesbit, Society of Biology

As this blog goes live, a record attempt is taking place for the world’s largest memory game. This is the climax of Biology Week and involves hundreds of children and adults. It is designed to be fun, but also has a serious side, collecting data for Professor Bruce Hood from the University of Bristol.

The game (you can try it here) is the most common way to study false memories. Participants are read a list of related words and then asked which words they heard: ‘did I say biology?’ for example. Many people are convinced they heard a word which wasn’t on the list but is related to the words which were.

If 30 adults sat the test, you would expect about 25 of them to say they heard the word sweet in the first list, even though they didn’t. This is very similar to the number of people who remember words that really were on the list.

Interestingly, however, adults are more likely to get this wrong than children. Young children in particular are less aware of the associations between the words in the list. So they are less likely to think that the associated words were in there.

There also seems to be a correlation between who gets fooled by this memory game and who is prone to autobiographical false memories. Autobiographical false memories raise very interesting ethical questions. Police have found discrepancies between what eye witnesses are convinced they saw and what CCTV reveals has really happened. What do false memories mean for criminal justice?

You can learn more about long-term and short-term memory or watch our memory videos here, and you can watch Bruce Hood talking about the game on BBC Breakfast.

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