In this week’s edition of science found around the web, I’ll feature this article from the New York Times about implanting mice with false memories. The unreliability of memory is well known. For example, my sister and I are pretty close in age, and we sometimes have to get verification from our mother about something we think happened to one or the other of us in childhood – my sister will remember something as happening to her, only to find out that it actually happened to me (or vice versa – my memory’s just as bad as hers when it comes to what happened to whom growing up).
While there’s still a great deal of work to be done in understanding the brain, memory formation, and how false memories can end up being remembered as true, scientists have begun to probe these questions. For full details, read the article (link below), but the gist is that scientists at MIT stimulated the section of a mouse’s brain that was associated with a happy, safe place while simultaneously delivering a shock to the mouse (which would create a negative memory). When they returned the mouse to the happy, safe location, it tensed up in fear – as if it remembered being shocked in that place, even though the shocks had been delivered in a separate location. Sure, this study doesn’t address why human memory is so fallible, but it’s a step toward understanding how these discrepancies might occur. And either way…it’s pretty awesome to think about being able to implant fake memories. But don’t worry – science is still a long way from being able to create an entire set of memories and implant them in a person’s head a la Total Recall. Fortunately, that particular technology is still situated solidly in the realm of science fiction.