Over the past decades, psychological scientists have debunked the notion that human memory provides a reliable record of actual events. The well-known work of APS Past President Elizabeth F. Loftus, who in a classic experiment convinced study participants that they got lost in a shopping mall as children even though no such event had ever occurred, is an example of how memories are subject to after-the-fact revisions.
Now, British artist A.R. Hopwood is turning the science of false memories into art.
In collaboration with Loftus and other psychological scientists, including UK researchers Sergio Della Sala, a University of Edinburgh professor and APS Fellow, and James Ost, University of Portsmouth, Hopwood is showcasing his work on false memories in a national tour that will run through August 2014 in the United Kingdom. His exhibition features a film recorded by memory researcher Kimberley Wade of the University of Warwick on a “SenseCam,” a device worn around the neck and used by people with amnesia to record their experiences. Hopwood invited Wade to take a hot air balloon ride and record the excursion on a SenseCam because one of her own experiments involved using doctored photos to make study participants “remember” taking a childhood hot air balloon ride that never happened. The exhibition also features a vinyl LP recording of Exit Latency “silences” from a word-list memory experiment by Ost.
Hopwood has published a list of false memories at www.falsememoryarchive.com, where the public is invited to submit their own false memories. “I thought that my mother left me for 2 years when I was a child to look for work,” reads one testimonial on the website. “I found out in my 20’s that she was only gone for 2 weeks.” Overall, the project aims to use empirical findings to explore what kind of “truth” false memories offer. It has been covered by BBC News, Dazed Digital, and other media outlets.