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False Memories

Particularly in this age of Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and the internet, you can’t believe everything you read, hear or see. Moreover, according to Ben Goldacre even memory can be dramatically wrong. Goldacre refers to an article by de Vito, et al and should be read in its entirety. "On an abstract level, there's a good short report in the journal Cortex, where researchers in Bologna demonstrate the spectacular hopelessness of memory. One morning in 1980 a bomb exploded in Bologna station: 85 people died, and the clock stopped ominously showing 10.25, the time of the explosion. This image became a famous symbol for the event, but the clock was repaired soon after and worked perfectly for the next 16 years. When it broke again in 1996, it was decided to leave the clock showing 10.25 permanently, as a memorial."

"The researchers asked 180 people familiar with the station, or working there, with an average age of 55, about the clock: 173 knew it was stopped, and 160 said it had been since 1980. What's more, 127 claimed they had seen it stuck on 10.25 ever since the explosion, including all 21 railway employees. In a similar study published last year, 40% of 150 UK participants claimed to remember seeing closed circuit television footage of the moment of the explosion on the bus in Tavistock Square on 7 July 2005. No such footage exists."

Discussion 1. Goldacre is an excellent writer who specializes in pointing out how statistics is misused in science. Go to here for his 2009 contributions. To get to previous years merely change the "9" to "8" or "7" etc. 2. One would imagine that those closest to an incident would have the best memory but de Vito points out: “From the 173 people who knew that at the time of testing the clock was stopped, a subgroup of 56 citizens who regularly take part in the annual official commemoration of the event has been further considered: only six (11%) of them correctly remember that the clock had been working in the past.” 3. Memories can be repressed as well as false. Go to here for a discussion of repressed memory relating to child abuse; specifically, you will find 1. An event that you cannot remember can be psychologically equivalent to an event that never happened. 2. An event that you falsely remember can be psychologically equivalent to an event that really did happen. The clock in Milan worked for another 16 years. Adults report abuse which supposedly took place often decades previous. Use Google to see a discussion of some of these legal cases and their outcomes. 4. Is there anything you used to recall vividly that you now doubt actually occurred?