EXPERIMENT YOURSELF: Remembering the Past
For this experiment, you will implant a false memory in a close friend or family member in order to demonstrate the fallibility of memory. We will use the “lost in the mall” technique, developed by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus.*
- Choose a friend or family member to be your research subject – someone you have known for a long time and with whom you share close personal memories.
- Think of three events that actually happened to this person.
- Write these events down, omitting some detail.
- Make up a fourth story and incorporate the following elements, tailoring the story to apply to your subject:
- the subject was lost for an extended period of time
- lost in a mall or large department store at about the age of 5
- found and aided by an elderly woman
- reunited with the family
- Give your subject the four stories (3 true + 1 fabricated) and ask him/her to write about each story every day for 5 consecutive days – one journal entry per day. If nothing comes to mind, they can just write “I don’t remember.” But they should try their hardest to remember, writing down everything they remember about each event. They should not look at their previous recollections after each has been finished. If you’d like to collect their diary entries so that they can’t look at them, you can create an electronic google form or take their physical copy.
- At the end of five days, ask your subject to tell you about each of the four experiences. Take notes during your conversation, and gauge how convinced he/she is that the mall story truly happened.
- Report back to let me know how it went by entering your results HERE.
- You should probably come clean and tell your close friend or family member what you have been up to.
* To learn more, watch Elizabeth Loftus’ TED Talk.