The misinformation effect is one that can actually cause people to recall things in a way that never happened. By planting misleading or false information into one’s mind, that person may later recall the false information as actually having happened.
I was subject to this effect only a few days ago. An old roommate of mine, Evan, sent me the following:
That’s me in the picture. The text is in reference to a funny conversation Evan and I had several months ago. Evan pointed out to me that on a bottle of combination peanut butter and jelly, it read: “America’s Favorite” in large letters, followed by “Combination Peanut Butter and Jelly” in much smaller print. We joked about how many contenders are in line for such an honor as that, maybe two? Three tops? It became a little inside joke we would laugh about every now and then.
Anywho, when I got this picture, I assumed that I must have said the line at the top at some point and that Evan was quoting me by adding that text. I told my girlfriend (who was with me at the time) my imagined scenario that prompted me to say those exact words to Evan. It certainly sounded like something I would have said, so I easily came up with a hypothetical context that quickly became a memory of the event. A day or two later, I find out that I didn’t actually say that, but that Evan came up with it simply to capture the essence of our little inside joke, even though I thought that I actually remembered saying it!
I was struck immediately with how easy it was for me to forge a false memory. All it took was an implication that something very plausible had taken place, and then my imagination filled in the rest.