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When Photographs Create False Memories

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Photographs help people illustrate the stories of their lives and the significant stories of their society. However, photographs can do more than illustrate events; in this article, we show that photographs can distort memory for them. We describe the course of our “false-memory implantation” research, and review recent work showing that photographs can sometimes increase—while other times decrease—false memories. First, we discuss research showing that a doctored photo, showing subjects taking a completely fictitious hot-air-balloon ride, can cultivate false memories for that experience. We hypothesize that the photograph helps subjects to imagine details about the event that they later confuse with reality. Second, we show that although photographs are indeed powerful sources of influence on memory, they are not necessarily as powerful as narrative. In fact, in certain circumstances, photographs might constrain imagination. Third, we discuss research showing that true photographs can also cultivate false memories. Finally, we present recent work showing that photographs can create false memories for current events.

Keywords: false memories; memories; photographs

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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