False Memories

In Professor Coane’s article, False Memory in a Short-Term Memory Task, there was a brief neuroscience reference. “Brain activity patterns associated with false memories were distinguishable from those associated with veridical memory”.  I thought this was cool so I looked up some of the details.  The studies she is referring to used ERPs and found lateralized brain activity only for true memories.

The idea of true vs. false memories then got me thinking about lying and whether or not those brain activity patterns are also distinguishable. If scans can pick up on false information when the person reporting doesn’t even know it’s false, it seems as though scans could pick up on false information when the person does know.  I wonder if maybe ERPs could work in the criminal justice system.  Could this work better than a polygraph?  Maybe the brain patterns of liars aren’t distinguishable, I don’t know, I just think it’s an interesting idea that we could potentially pick out liars by looking at their brain patterns.

3 thoughts on “False Memories

  1. This would be a really cool idea except quite pricey. I am going to go ahead and assume health insurance companies aren’t going to want to cover ERPs for legal purposes, though maybe the government/law system will find money in their bank account to fund for this. But then there is the dilemma of which cases this method of lie detecting would be utilized in. The high profile cases, like an O.J. Simpson case to figure out whether he was really a murderer, or more minor cases such as car accidents, whose fault was it really? This is really interesting too because now people are starting to learn how to cheat on lie detectors. So ERPs could be the end all to cheating on detectors.


  2. Kelsey, you raise some really interesting questions. It would be incredible to take a look at the fMRI patterning that goes on during lying. Inevitably, theory of mind may also play a large role in lying (i.e. you must be able to hold the mental representations and expectations of others while comparing them to your actions). Thus it would be interesting to look into the detailed processes that underlie lying in an fMRI context – I’m sure whatever findings would be uncovered would be incredibly interesting!


  3. SO I just finished writing about this for my final integrative paper, trying to connect Shapiro’s talk and Jen’s talk, and it turns out that there are fMRI studies that show distinct patterning between accurate recall and false memories. These are two of the studies that I looked at, but in short it seems that the hippocampus (duh) is responsible for recall of accurate memories in a recall task, while the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is activated in false memory recall. Interesting stuff though, read on!!

    “Encoding social interactions: the neural correlates of true and false memories.” (2010)

    “Comparison of neural activity in true memories, false memories and forgetting: An fMRI study of the misinformation effect.” (2010)


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