Saturday, 25 February 2012

Bugs Bunny at Disney World

It is recognised that people can honestly believe memories that are false. False memories are a challenge to the criminal justice system. They can even develop into a syndrome affecting relationships if particularly traumatic.

I want to avoid settling for "must have been" memories in this process of remembering every day of my life. One approach is to recognise that a false memory sometimes presents a niggling doubt: I feel like I'm trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Experiencing this feeling earlier this week and thinking about false memories reminded me of a study which I read when a teenager. The subjects in the study were shown a brochure for Disney World and then asked if they remembered visiting as a child.

Those that had were questioned in more detail about what they had seen and done. Either voluntarily or when prompted a large number remembered seeing Bugs Bunny. Although Bugs Bunny is not a Disney character, he appeared in one of the photos in the brochure and this had been incorporated into the subjects' recall of their own trip.

They created a false memory incorporating something they thought must have been true. Meeting Bugs Bunny became as real as any other memory.

I remember the report was published in New Scientist magazine, which I read regularly when at school and again when working in Africa in the 1990s.

I know the study involved Bugs Bunny and Disney World.

However, the detail about the brochure is something I have invented, because it sounds feasible; it is not a genuine memory of my own, but a false memory I've created to fill a gap in my story. I recognise this at the moment. Perhaps in the future I will recall my plausible invention as a fact. It could become a false memory.

There is a curious footnote to this posting.

I thought I'd search our great collective memory of the internet to see if there is a reference to this study, even though it predates widespread use of the internet.

I found page after page of search results referring exactly to the Bugs Bunny at Disney World story. Here's one 

The only thing is, these reports date from 2001 and I am convinced I read about this study in the late 1970s. Possibly it was when I was in Africa in the 1990s and also reading New Scientist, but it feels longer ago.

I know where I was in 2001 and placing the memory of reading about the study then feels like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Can I trust this feeling and conclude the study reported in 2001 was a repeat of something from years before? Am I a reliable witness?

If anyone knows for sure, that will help me know whether I can trust this feeling or not.

I will keep looking.

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