Have you ever experienced an event that everyone else you know claims never happened?  Or maybe you and a friend disagree on something that the both of you witnessed, such as what someone was wearing that day.  Now a surprising new study says that we can be given false memories and all it takes is simply asking a question about something that never occurred.

The research paper titled, Susceptibility to long term misinformation effect outside of the laboratory, and was conducted by head psychologist Miriam Lommen and her associates at Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.  The research was part of a study of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and conducted with individual interviews with 249 Dutch soldiers who served time in Afghanistan.

During the interviews with the soldiers, they were given a series of questions about any and all traumatic events that occurred with them fighting in the war or things they may have witnessed in battle.  Of the questions, one event was a fantasy made up by those doing the interview, which was a missile attack on the soldier’s base occurring on New Year’s Eve.

Psychologist Miriam J Lommen, who served as heard of the research, reported that after a period of nine months, 26% of those in the study reported experiencing the non-existent event the researchers added.  The report reads in part, “Logistic regression analyses revealed that lower cognitive ability and a combination of high arousal and more stressors on deployment were related to higher susceptibility to the misinformation effect.”

Eight of the 249 soldiers said they did recall the event of the missile attack on New Year’s Eve during the very first interview.  The remaining 241 soldiers said they did not recall being involved in any such New Year’s Eve attack on their base.  Seven months following the first interview a follow-up interview revealed that 26% of those 249 questioned recalled the non-existent New Year’s Eve base attack.

The research also noted that the event was made into a question and not a statement, which seemed to enhance the memory of the event.  Furthermore, those more susceptible to the false information were noted to have worse symptoms of PTSD and a lower IQ.

Source:  Lommen, M., Engelhard, I., & van den Hout, M. (2013). Susceptibility to long-term misinformation effect outside of the laboratory European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4 DOI:10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.19864