False Memory & What Can Cause It

Updated December 2, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Are You Questioning Your Memories And Perspective?

Memories might be more complex entities than we can truly comprehend.

One of the most problematic forms of memory comes in the form of false memories. False memory is clinically defined as "a psychological phenomenon where a person recalls something that did not happen." 

There are a variety of causes and situations which can lead to false memories; nevertheless, false recollections can be dangerous and traumatic to the individual who experiences them, especially if he or she is unaware of the fallacy of their memory.

Understanding False Memory

Placing great stock and value in one's memory may only be human nature. When most people hear the term "false memory," they may think that it comes along with a mental illness, or they may think that it is an uncommon or isolated occurrence.

But false memories can actually be considered quite common, because memory is infinitely complex and even unreliable.

This does not mean that every memory which one maintains is doctored, false, or unreal. However, false memories can be easily caused by untrue information or even the mere power of suggestion. Sometimes even just through hearing something repeated, people can begin to believe it, regardless of its truthfulness or fallacy.

In many cases, people can be tricked into incurring false memories by mere convincing. 

Why Do People Believe False Information?

Put simply; various individuals may internalize false information because doing so is often easier than taking the time to evaluate and assess what they're being told. 

Therefore, the human brain routinely defaults to the newly processed false information, sometimes instead of taking time to dig deeper and unearth the truth. One’s susceptibility to doctored information (and by extension, false memories) increases when the untrue assertions are combined with accurate information. In society, these are often referred to as 'half-truths,' but in actuality, something is either accurate or inaccurate. 

Working Against False Information And False Memories

However, there are some effective steps which can be taken to combat falsehoods and untrue memories. First and foremost, we should engage with immediate and critical evaluation of what is being told. False memories may take time to marinate and internalize within the human mind. However, doctored information can be combated by first and foremost considering the source.

If the source of information is untrustworthy, or otherwise suspicious, taking them at their word may not be the most strategic move. A discerning mind can be one of the most powerful weapons against inaccurate information and false memories.

Another productive manner of working against false information and false memories is simply by asking questions of the source. If something does not sound right or appears suspicious, questioning can be a great way to pick apart the source and determine whether or not they are spreading faulty information or half-truths.

Additional Causes Of False Memories

Despite fairly popular belief, false memories are not always engendered by external sources or individuals. According to Scholarpedia, the human mind can inaccurately perceive or interpret something they witness and therefore create a false memory. 

Unfortunately, these types of false memories can be quite common when someone happens to witness a crime. For instance, an individual may genuinely believe that they saw a specific person committing wrongdoing; however, various factors (such as distance, darkness, briefness, quickness, mistaken identity, etc.) can easily lead to the creation of false memory, despite how well-intentioned the individual may be. 

Are Certain People More Vulnerable To False Memory Than Others?

The phenomenon of false memories and untrue recollections is a subject of intrigue for many scientists and specialists. Therefore, it begs to question…are certain individuals more vulnerable or susceptible to false memory, whether from outside sources or their minds? Well, according to Futurity, the answer is yes.

Based on the findings of Futurity, older adults are ones who may be the most vulnerable to false memories. As people age and go through life, their brains may change in various ways. One of the strongest commonalities among older people may be their reliance on schematic memories. As the name suggests, schematic memories place a greater emphasis on the substance or essence of an event, instead of the specific details.

This can be especially problematic. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail. While there are certain occasions where the mere essence is of greatest importance, it’s often an acute awareness of details can determine the difference between an accurate memory or a false memory.

As various individuals get older, they may be encouraged to partake in activities that exercise the mind and attempt to keep it intact. Joining classes, doing crossword puzzles, or simply getting out of the house on a regular basis can make a tremendous difference in one's life and on their mental state. Moreover, it can prevent a plethora of brain-related ailments and disorders.

Therapy To Address False Memories

Many believe that therapy can be a great combatant against false memories or the recovery of true recollections. 

Are You Questioning Your Memories And Perspective?

Here at BetterHelp, we pride ourselves on offering the best quality of care to those who come to us. Regardless of who you are or what you may have experienced, BetterHelp's ultimate priority is ensuring that our therapists and psychologists guide each on the path to living their best and most fulfilled life. If you or a loved one are going through something, or simply need someone to talk to, feel free to contact BetterHelp at any time by clicking here.

Studies have demonstrated that online therapy is jut as effective as traditional, in-person therapy. Surveys have also shown that many people feel more comfortable telling things via an online video call than they would communicate things face-to-face with someone. This openness to intimate details can allow therapists to better aid their patients after hearing the whole story.


Often, when we experience a memory, what we are seeing in our mind’s eye is not a replay, but rather a recreation. That means that false memories are not an anomaly, but they are instead very common. An understanding of this commonality should lead us all to be a bit more wary of our memories and their accuracy. It should also lead us to routinely question what we are told by others, even if it is presented as fact.

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