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Fantastic Memories: The Relevance of Research into Eyewitness Testimony and False Memories for Reports of Anomalous Experiences

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Reports of anomalous experiences are to be found in all known societies, both historically and geographically. If these reports were accurate, they would constitute powerful evidence for the existence of paranormal forces. However, research into the fallibility of human memory suggests that we should be cautious in accepting such reports at face value. Experimental research has shown that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, including eyewitness testimony for anomalous events. The present paper also reviews recent research into susceptibility to false memories and considers the relevance of such work for assessing reports of anomalous events. It is noted that a number of psychological variables that have been shown to correlate with susceptibility to false memories (e.g., hypnotic susceptibility, tendency to dissociate) also correlate with the tendency to report paranormal and related anomalous experiences. Although attempts to show a direct link between tendency to report anomalous experiences and susceptibility to false memories have had only limited success to date, this may reflect the use of inappropriate measures.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Dept of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2003


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