Ib Laq – Reliability of Memory

LAQ – Reliability of Memory Discuss, with reference to relevant research studies, the extent to which memory is reliable. This paper will evaluate the extent to which memory is reliable. While the human ability to have memory is an incredibly complex, yet amazing cognitive process, recent psychological research demonstrated that memory isn’t an imaginative reconstruction of past events, and is therefore not as reliable as previously thought. Memories can be influenced by other factors other than what was recorded initially due to the reconstructive nature of memory (e. g. , schemas).
Repression may also occur and false memories can be created, making memory even less reliable. The extent to which memory is reliable has all kinds of practical applications, ranging from eyewitness testimony and studying ancient history to taking a simple test. This paper will evaluate Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) Lab Experiment 2 and Levinger & Clark (1961) Experiment, which tested the extent to which memory is reliable. Both studies point out that memory can be manipulated and differs depending on the subject and time, making it less reliable than what an individual would initially expect.
Firstly, this paper will look into Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) Lab Experiment 2. The aim of this experiment was to see whether misleading post-event information such as the wording of leading questions could create false memories. An independent measures design was used, where 150 students were shown a clip of a car accident. Then, the participants were split into three groups of 50. The 1st group was asked, “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other? ” The 2nd group was asked, “How fast were the cars going when they smashed each other? And the 3rd group wasn’t asked to estimate the speed of the cars in the accident, as they were the controlled group. A week later, they were asked whether they saw any broken glass, despite the fact that the video didn’t include any broken glass. The researchers found that the second group, on average, gave higher speed estimates and that they recalled seeing broken glass. As a result, they concluded that the wording of the questions had an effect on the estimation of speed and the perception of the accident. The higher rates of participants seeing broken glass and stimating that the cars were going faster is more likely to be involved when they were asked the leading question with the word ‘smash’. Loftus’s research indicated that it is possible to manipulate and form false memories using misleading information after the event had occurred, such as the format of a question, causing memory to be distorted and lead to inaccurate recall. This is also known as confabulation, which is the confusion of true memories with false ones. The study itself is relevant and has both weaknesses and strengths. Firstly, due to a well thought out procedure, the researchers’ findings match what they set out to find.

The use of an experimental methodology also allows for a cause & effect to be determined, and for the experiment to be easily replicated. Also, a control condition was used in the study in the form of a 3rd group that was not asked about the accident but only whether they saw broken glass or not, for reliability of results. On the other hand, the study has numerous weaknesses. It has been criticized for its low ecological validity. In real life, events that might need to be recalled often take place unexpectedly and in an atmosphere of tension, such as a court.
It is difficult to recreate such conditions in a laboratory, and it is possible that eyewitnesses remember real events differently than staged events. Moreover, all the participants were Americans, making it culturally bias. Finally, the research requires participants to estimate speed, making the answers subjective to each individual, and may have influenced the results. Another study examining the reliability of memory is Levinger & Clark Study (1961). The aim of this research was to examine whether repression can cause the forgetting of certain words.
Participants were shown two mixed wordlists, some had negative emotional connotations and some were neutral. The researchers compared the recall ability of the participants for the different types of words. The researchers speculated on what the concept of repression suggests should happen. They found that participants had poorer recall of emotionally negative words, such as ‘fight’ and ‘fear’. Hence, they concluded that words with negative emotional connotations are repressed. Therefore, the research suggests that are memory represses words that distort our emotions, causing us to “forget”, making memory less reliable.
The study itself used a solid experiment methodology. Being a laboratory experiment, it can be easily repeated, and cause and effect can be established to a fair degree. Also, Klein’s Research (1972) also supports this experiment. Similarily to Levinger & Clark, Klein found that participants had poorer recall for a wordlist where they had been insulted, again suggesting that repression occurs when an individual is exposed to emotionally negative material. However, when Bradley and Baddely (1990) replicated the study, they found that recall of negative words was higher after a delay.
Therefore, the original study may have produced false results. A few reasons that explain the inconsistent result may have been that the participants were distracted or demotivated during recall at one of the studies, exposing methodological flaws. In addition, the neutral words may have had too much of a positive effect on the participants, helping them remember them. Either way, both the original and the replicated study suggest that memory isn’t a perfect representation of the past. Lastly, the study holds low ecological validity as it was conducted in a laboratory environment as is as a result less likely to be true to life.
Overall, memory can be manipulated, creating distorted and false memories. Both Levinger & Clark (1961) and Loftus and Palmer (1974) both suggest that memory can be repressed and shaped depending on the subject, time, individual etc. Memory can create a general image of past events, but it is simplified and is very subjective to the individual. Hence, we must be aware of the subjectivity of memory, especially when relying on its accuracy during eyewitness testimonies, when writing history, or even writing an autobiography.

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