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"Brain Trust" -- The Discovery Files

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People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, according to UC Irvine researchers.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Not-so-total recall

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Ever meet someone who can accurately recall even minute details of their life going back to childhood? (Sound effect: dream state, child laughs) It's known as 'highly superior autobiographical memory' or HSAM, first identified in 2006 by scientists at UC Irvine. Now, an Irvine team has shown that 'superior' memory may be just as susceptible to manipulation and distortion as an average one. Depending on certain conditions, it seems that everyone can form false memories.

The team recruited 20 people with 'superior' memory and 38 people with average memory, for a series of tests to see how false information can manipulate memory formation. They had the subjects participate in word association, remember details of a crime scene photo, and discuss their recollections of footage of the united flight 93 crash on 9/11. In truth, such footage does not exist part of the manipulation and misinformation the scientists used to create potential false memories.

Their findings showed that people with HSAM were just as likely to be manipulated as anybody else, depending on how the misinformation was processed.

The study could be helpful to professions that rely on memory, such as psychology and law, showing that anyone can form false memories. Sometimes I've found the best memories are the ones that never happened.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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