Brain believes its false memories

February 7, 2005

A radiologist participating in a study is asked to differentiate between two groups of images. She is told that half contain cancerous lesions and half do not. The methodology of the study may already be flawed because the brain often creates false memories after a subject hears leading questions or directions.

A radiologist participating in a study is asked to differentiate between two groups of images. She is told that half contain cancerous lesions and half do not. The methodology of the study may already be flawed because the brain often creates false memories after a subject hears leading questions or directions.

Brian Gonsalves, Ph.D., and colleagues at Northwestern University used functional MRI to determine that some of the same brain areas are involved when memories of perceived or imagined objects are stored (Psychol Sci. 2004:15[10]:655-60).

Eleven volunteers underwent fMRI while they visualized objects based on researchers' prompts. Half the words were accompanied by a corresponding photo, the other half by a blank rectangle.

Subjects then were asked to recall whether they had seen a photo or a blank card. The true memory rate was 74% and false memory, 27%. The rate of false alarms (new items introduced) was 6%. False memories, in particular, activated the precuneus and inferior parietal regions of the cerebral cortex.

Perhaps in the future, intra- and interobserver variability can be explained simply as the brain doing what it does naturally.