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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An architectual mind : the nature of real, created, and fabricated memories for emotional childhood events Porter, Stephen


The false/ recovered memory debate has highlighted the complexities involved in assessing the validity of memories for emotional childhood events. This dissertation begins by tracing the history of the dominant school of thought on memory, the spatial perspective, as well as far less conspicuous reconstructive views, and challenges influential modern spatial views (e.g., repression) in light of a more defensible reconstructive model. The empirical component of this dissertation was designed to compare the nature of real, created, and fabricated childhood memories for emotional events within individuals. The critical issues being addressed in the experiment were: (1) whether people could come to remember false ("created") memories for emotional events; (2) if so, whether differences existed between created memories and real and/or intentionally lied about (fabricated) memories, and; (3) whether there were individual differences in susceptibility to created memories. Using a variation of an approach developed by Hyman, Husband, and Billings (1995), a questionnaire was forwarded to participants' parents inquiring about six categories of negative emotional events (serious medical procedure, serious animal attack, getting seriously hurt by another child, serious indoor accident, serious outdoor accident, and getting lost) which the participant may or may not have experienced between the ages of 4 and 10 years. Parents were asked to describe each event which had occurred and to give a number of specific pieces of information relating to the event. Based on the questionnaire information (85% response rate), 77 participants were interviewed about each of a: (1) real event; (2) false event; and (3) fabricated event, in three weekly-spaced interviews. Over the three interviews, the interviewers attempted to implant a created memory for the false emotional event using encouragement, context reinstatement, guided imagery, and instructing daily recall attempts. In the first interview, participant were asked about the real event and the false event (counterbalanced), each introduced as a true event. They were provided the event tide and four specific pieces of information to cue their memories (their age, location, season/ month, and people present), based on questionnaire information (contrived for the false events). In the second interview, participants were re-interviewed about their memories for the false event followed by the implantation procedure. In the third interview, participants were again interviewed about the false event with the same interview approach. Finally (after the last attempt at recalling the false event), they were provided written instructions to fabricate a childhood memory, again with an event category and four information clues, given preparation rime and a monetary incentive, and interviewed about the fabricated event with the same format as the other two memory types. Following transcription of the two or three (if a created memory had emerged) final memory reports, the memories were compared on several dependent measures, collectively designated the Memory Assessment Procedure (MAP), relating to their subjective and presentation characteristics. Participants were then asked to complete a Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) questionnaire to examine if susceptibility to created memories was related to a general dissociative cognitive pattern. Results indicated that twenty (26%) of participants created complete memories for the false emotional events (seven animal attacks, five instances of getting seriously hurt by another child, four serious outdoor accidents, three episodes of getting lost, and one medical procedure). Furthermore, 29.9% of participants reported some false information pertaining to the false event ("partial" memories), for a total of 55.9% of participants recalling information relating to the false event. The remaining participants (44.2%) reported no information pertaining to the false event. There were several interesting differences among the three memory types, including stress ratings, vividness/ clarity ratings, confidence ratings, coherence, number of details, repeated details, and memory failures. For example, when relating a created memory, participants were less confident and the memories were less vivid and detailed compared to the other memory types, but similar in sensory components and relevancy. On the other hand, participants were highly confident in their fabricated memories which were rated as highly stressful and vivid, and the memories were detailed. However, when relating a fabricated memory, participants repeated details and were less willing to admit lacking memory, relative to real memories. Other findings are reported on the origin of the created memories, age factors, memory perspective, reasons provided for first forgetting the false event, and post-interview confidence in the created memories. On the DES , participants who had come up with a partial or a created memory scored, on average, about twice as high as those participants who had recalled no false information, indicating that susceptibility to memory distortion may be related to a general dissociative pattern. This was the largest scale created memory study to date and the first to look at a variety of emotional childhood events and the content of the memories. Implications of the findings for the false memory debate and memory assessment in forensic contexts are discussed.

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