Virtual Reality can lead to false memories

December 13, 2006

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I dreamed that a tamale became a blimp! It was so real! [Link]

We always knew that one creates one’s own reality. I have never been convinced that people who claim to remember things from age 1 through 10 are actually remembering or just recreating from old family photos. Perhaps it’s only me as I’ve noticed that most of my old memories are tied to specific pictures that I know from that time.

When we dream, our minds throw together seemingly unrelated chunks of events into what we wish to call a story. And then in the morning, we awake and try to make sense out of this evaporative memory, and our minds are there plugging in missing transitions, transitions that weren’t really in the dream but “dreamed up” to make sense out of the chunks.

I’ve seen my own loved ones embellish stories over the years that get further and further from what actually happened, so much that I’ve given up correcting, and have just accepted the amplification as part of the tale.

People believe the strangest things with all their heart and mind, and ultimately it makes them happy. We believe it, therefore it is true.

I point all this out because now researchers have found that virtual reality can be more real than those old dusty childhood photos, and push their way to the part of the mind that separates real memories from imagined ones.

“The ease of generating vivid mental images may create later confusion regarding whether a retrieved mental image was perceived or imagined, thereby leading to more false memories,” she writes. Interacting virtually with an object makes it easier for people to imagine holding and using the object, and that apparently makes it easier for them to imagine nonexistent but plausible features. Because this imagined image is so strong for the VR users, they tend to mistake it for an actual memory of the feature in question.

This resonates with me even more as we are now the proud owners of the Nintendo Wii, a plastic controller that, with your TV and software, can emulate bowling, boxing, baseball, tennis, and golf. I’ve dusted off my old bowling and baseball chops and have really gotten good again (virtually?). I wonder whether it would translate if I actually did the sport. I use all the muscle groups I did when I actually bowled or batted or pitched. My heart races and I perspire (a bit). Virtual sports. Will I be bragging to my senior colleagues in 25 years about what a good bowler I was in the “old days?”

[The study (PDF), “Learning Through Virtual Product Experience: The Role of Imagery on True Versus False Memories,” was conducted by Ann Schlosser, a marketing professor at the University of Washington Business School.]

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++ DEUSoNICA ++ : Reality
December 14, 2006 at 6:51 pm

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