But one area of contention among psychologists is the issue of false memories: “The debate as to whether recovered memories are real or false memories have been as polarised as it has been vehement, and has become known as the ‘memory wars’. One of the problems for psychologists studying this phenomenon is that, given the trauma and timescale involved, it is very hard to conduct an experiment to ‘test’ such memories…. Studies have found that some participants report memories that have been implanted by researchers; these are called false memories…Recent work suggests that false memories about being sick from egg salad affected some participants’ eating behaviour, even after four months.” (Pike & Brace, p.396) Hence human behaviour pertaining to perception, cognition, memory and recall can have broad ranging implications. For example, police departments and jurors depend on eyewitness accounts for arriving at judgements. Hence, a proper understanding of sophisticated theories in this area is important. In other words, “knowing how memory works in such unusual and often stressful circumstances, and understanding how interviewing techniques can help improve the accuracy of recall, has signiﬁcant practical implications. Witness testimony represents an important area of applied research, in that psychological theories and experimental ﬁndings have made a signiﬁcant contribution to law enforcement and the criminal justice system more generally.” (Pike & Brace, p.400)
While assessing these links between external environment and human behaviour (in this case via cognition) one should be wary of the dangers it poses. For example, herein lays the potential for exploitation by the advertising industry in propagating self-serving misinformation about products/services. Political parties are already known for allying with public relations industry in creating pleasing illusions in people’s minds at the cost of ignoring important policy issues. The power of subliminal images in manipulating the subconscious mind is also an acknowledged fact. Especially since these theories pertaining to the influence of external environment on cognition and memory are valid, it is imperative that they don’t get abused by commercial or political interests.
John Oates, Learning from Watching, Chapter 3 (p.99-135), Discovering Psychology, co-edited by Nicola Brace and Jovan Byford, Published by the Open University in 2010
Frederick Thomas, Changing Behaviour, Chapter 4 (p.145-188) Discovering Psychology, co-edited by Nicola Brace and Jovan Byford, Published by the Open University in 2010
Graham Pike & Nicola Brace, Witnessing & Remembering, Chapter 9 (p.361-400), Discovering Psychology, co-edited by Nicola Brace and Jovan Byford, Published by the Open University in 2010