In a lecture a few weeks ago the lecturer asked if anyone had an early childhood memory. A few students raised their hands and told us all of an event in their lives. The lecturer went on to ask how do they know if this was a real memory or one formed from stories of the event from family members. Due to this question I have decided to look at an experiment that plants false memories in children, and how such false memories had drastic consequences for one family.
The experiment I will first look at involves a doctored photo of the participant holding hands with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. If you are not aware this photo is not possible, as Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros character and so would not be at Disneyland. In an earlier study participants were shown an edited picture of them with Mickey Mouse, but it was decided that this was possibly a true suppressed memory, so was updated to include Bugs Bunny in the picture instead. Participants were shown a picture of themselves holding hands with Bugs Bunny just once and 16% when asked recalled the experience as a childhood memory. In a later study the participants were shown the picture more frequently, but still only 3 times and a massive 48% recalled the experience as a memory.
It astonishes me to believe that a false memory can be implanted so easily, when I look back to many of my early childhood memories I can’t truly say I can picture them happening but can recall being told the stories by family members on several occasions. Even though I am sure these events happened, can I truly say these memories are mine?
In 1989 such a memory destroyed one family. While watching her daughter play Eileen Franklin had a flash back of a childhood memory, it involved her father murdering her childhood friend. For about 10 months Eileen tried to ignore the memory, but decided to tell her husband about it as it would not pass. Eileen’s husband insisted that she went to the police, so on the 25th November 1989 Eileen reported the incident to the police.
Eileen reported to the police with great clarity the events of September 22nd 1969, down to small details of where they played. Eileen went on to say how her father got violent and raped her childhood friend and later killed her. 3 days later her father George Franklin was arrested and on November 29th 1990 was found guilty of murder. After serving 6 years in prison, with no evidence apart from his daughter’s testimony, George Franklin was proven innocent from DNA sampling. It appears that the childhood memory she recalled was due to being hypnotised by her therapist.
It is scary to think that this could occure, not only was George Franklin committed of a crime he did not commit, but his daughter Eileen went through years of mental anguish.