Misinformation paradigm

Many studies that use suggestion to instigate false memories follow a procedure called the misinformation paradigm (Loftus, 2005; Otgaar, Candel, Smeets, & Merckelbach, 2010) in which participants are exposed to erroneous information (i.e., misinformation). Research that has implemented this paradigm with child participants has tended to focus on children’s susceptibility to suggestive questioning when the suggestion is repeated or when a person of authority delivers the suggestion. For example, in one study, 5-year-old children received a vaccination from a paediatrician (Bruck, Ceci, Francoeur, & Barr, 1995). Children were repeatedly interviewed about this visit one year later. One group of children who were interviewed in a nonsuggestive, neutral manner provided accurate reports of the visit. However, the group of children who were interviewed suggestively using misinformation often falsely remembered certain details (e.g., that a female researcher, not the male paediatrician, inoculated them).

The influence of suggestion on children’s memory can also be subtler. In a study conducted by Poole and Lindsay (1995), 3 to 4 year olds and 5 to 7 year olds interacted individually with Mr Science, a person who demonstrated certain “science facts” to children. Three months later, parents suggested to some of the children details that did not occur during the Mr Science event. The authors found that many children erroneously remembered details that were not part of the original event.

Implantation paradigm

An extension of the misinformation paradigm is the false memory implantation paradigm in which entire fictitious events are injected into memory (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011; Otgaar & Candel, 2011). Loftus and Pickrell (1995) were the first to demonstrate the contaminating impact of personalized suggestions on memory. In their study, adult participants were suggestively told that they were lost in a shopping mall when they were 5. Participants were asked about this false event during two suggestive interviews. A quarter of participants (n = 6) developed implanted false memories for the suggested event and even provided additional event-related details.

False memory implantation studies have also been undertaken using child participants. For example, Ceci, Huffman, Smith, and Loftus (1994) presented preschool children (3 to 6 year olds) with fictitious events suggesting that their hands got stuck in a mousetrap or that they went on a hot-air balloon ride. Children had to try to recollect the events on numerous occasions. About a third of the children eventually were confident that the fabricated stories truly happened to them. Similar results were obtained when it was suggested that children had fallen off a tricycle and had received stitches in their leg (Ceci, Loftus, Leichtman, & Bruck, 1994). These results show that children are highly vulnerable to the creation of implanted false memories and that they can falsely assent to both negative (e.g., mousetrap) and positive (e.g., hot-air balloon ride) events (Ceci et al., 1994).

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