New research at the Weizmann Institute shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed. The study, which appears in the journal Science, reveals a unique pattern of brain activity when false memories are formed — one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.
The experiment, conducted by Prof. Yadin Dudai and research student Micah Edelson of the Institute’s Neurobiology Department with Prof. Raymond Dolan and Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London, took place in four stages. In the first, volunteers watched a documentary film in small groups. Three days later, they returned to the lab individually to take a memory test, answering questions about the film. They were also asked how confident they were in their answers.
They were later invited back to the lab to retake the test while being scanned in a functional MRI (fMRI) that revealed their brain activity. This time, the subjects were also given a “lifeline”: the supposed answers of the others in their film viewing group (along with social-media-style photos). Planted among these were false answers to questions the volunteers had previously answered correctly and confidently. The participants conformed to the group on these “planted” responses, giving incorrect answers nearly 70% of the time.
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