A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led by Susumu Tonegawa have created false memories in mice. The mice “remembered” that they had been shocked in one location when in fact they had been shocked in an entirely different location. The results of the study were published by the journal Science on Thursday. The New York Times reports:
Dr. Tonegawa said that because the mechanisms of memory formation are almost certainly similar in mice and humans, part of the importance of the research is “to make people realize even more than before how unreliable human memory is,” particularly in criminal cases when so much is at stake.
Social scientists studying eyewitness misidentification have also determined that human memory can be unreliable and that false memories—such as believing that a person that you have never seen before has attacked you—can be fabricated through poor police procedures. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing, playing a role in nearly 75% of these cases.