By Jenny Gong
Human memories are not perfect. While we often place a lot of emphasis on the forgetfulness of our memories, we tend to overlook the significance of false memories. False memories are either distortions of past experiences or creations of new ones. While most false memories are fairly harmless, some can have serious implications. They tend to play a huge role in court especially in criminal trials through false recall or false identification of suspects.
Recently, researchers at MIT have been able to actually implant false memories in mice through optogenetics. Mice were first placed in a blue environment that was harmless. When they were transferred to a red environment, they received mild foot shocks every time they recalled the first environment. Eventually, when they were placed in the first environment again, they showed signs of fear even though the blue environment was harmless, indicating that they had formed false memories of the first environment.
One of the most remarkable things they discovered was that mice recalled fake memories using the exact same processes that they use to recall real memories. Even though mice are simple creatures, their brain structure and processes are very similar to human ones. With this in mind, further neuroscience research with mice can be performed to better understand how our brains change with experience. One day, we can even apply these findings to neurological diseases such as schizophrenia. By learning more about false memories, hopefully, one day, we can learn the difference between true and false recall and save the innocent suspects from a life in prison.
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