Many of our memories about ourselves—particularly those about our early years—are believed partly a form of wishful thinking, an internal cognitive process that attempts to restructure one’s autobiography in a positive light. (Fotopoulou, A., et al. “Wishful realty distortions in confabulation: A case report.” Neuropsyhologia 42(6):727-744)
Human beings make up stories about their lives, the world, and reality in general. The fit between the memories and the stories enhances the person’s belief in them. Often, however, it is the story that creates the memory, rather than vice versa. (Hastie, R., and R.M. Dawes. “Rational Choice in an Uncertain World.” Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage, 2001.)
Recovered-memory therapy has been shown to be unverifiable, and memories recovered in this way are no longer admissible in court. (Lief, H.I. “Patients versus therapist:Legal actions over recovered memory therapy. Psychiatric Times 16(11).
Study: victims claiming recovery of repressed memories were found to be more prone to fantasies and false recollections of other remembered events. Other research has found that interpretation of dreams can be used to alter a person’s memories and create false beliefs. (Mazzoni, G. A. L. “Dream interpretation and false beliefs.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 30(1):45-50. 1999.
Imaginary memories and reality-based memories are stored in different parts of the brain. If neural pathways that connect brain areas are interfered with, a person may lose the ability to distinguish between fantasies and facts. (Conway, M.A., et al. “Neurophysiological correlates of memory for experienced and imagined events.” Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 155(2):204-209)
It was believed that common antianxiety drugs could impair the conscious recollections of true memories but not false memories. Other studies have found that antianxiety drugs both true and false memories by causing the person to exaggerate the personal significance and emotional intensity of past events. (Huron, C., et al. “Lorazepam and diazepam impair true, but not false memories.” Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 155(2):204-209)
Memories are affected by stress. Studies at Yale concluded that the neuropeptides and neurotransmitters released during stress can alter the functioning of areas of the brain directly involved with memory formation and recall. This may interfere with the laying down of memory traces for incidents of childhood abuse, and may possibly lead to long-term distortions for the facts, or even amnesia. (Bremner, J.D., et al. Neural mechanisms in dissociative amnesia for childhood abuse. American Journal of Psychiatry 13 (7 supplement):71-82, 1996. Schacter, D., (ed.) Cognitive Psychology of False Memories: A Special Issue of the Journal Cognitive Neuropsychology. London:Taylor and Francis, 1999)