Children and adolescents -- even adults for that matter -- may report with all sincerity that they had been sexually abused in the past or witnessed a murder or other crimes. But sometimes the person, though earnest, is wrong: The memory is a false one.
Having false memories -- "recalling" events that did not happen -- is a real phenomenon that is vitally important to law and medicine. Since it has only been readily recognized since the early 1990s, the science of false memory is a complex and burgeoning field.
A new book, "The Science of False Memory" (Oxford University Press, 2005) by two Cornell University professors, Charles Brainerd and Valerie Reyna, brings together and makes accessible to the general reader the decade or so of intensive research on false memory.
"False memories are a hot topic in psychological research and a major issue for society," says Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology at Harvard University. "'The Science of False Memory' provides a compelling scholarly analysis that ranges from laboratory studies to cases in the courtroom. Written by two leaders in the field, this book is must reading for memory researchers, psychologists and anyone else interested in understanding why people sometimes remember events that never happened." Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California adds, "This is the definitive work on false memories … everything you might want to know about them and more."
"In the past few years, there's been a broad-based outpouring of research on the circumstances in which normal people are possessed of positive, confident memories of things that never happened to them," says Reyna, professor of human development at Cornell. "The flood of new data has stimulated comparable advances in our theoretical understanding of these false-memory phenomena, though this fact is not yet widely appreciated."
To further those understandings among more people, the book explores four major topics: theories of false memory, adult experimental psychology of false memory, false memory in legal contexts and false memory in psychotherapy.
Part I covers the history of the science of false memory, reviews the varied methods that have been used to study false memory and discusses research regarding age changes in false memory and theories that have been used to explain and make predictions about false memory. Part II reviews the basic science of false memory, including theoretical explanations of false memory and laboratory research with adults, adolescents and children. Part III covers the applied science of false memory, discussing false memory in criminal investigations, both with children and adults, as well as in psychotherapy, including recovered memories of previous lives. Part IV considers emerging areas for experimentation, including work to build on mathematical models, aging effects and cognitive neuroscience.
The book is intended not only for researchers in experimental and clinical psychology, but also for child protective services workers, clinical psychologists, defense attorneys, elementary and secondary teachers, general medical practitioners, journalists, judges, nurses, police investigators, prosecutors and psychiatrists.