Lost in the Mall Technique

Implanting False Memories, by Meera Patel and Taylor King

Why we chose this topic:

We were intrigued by the proposed malleability of something we rely on as often as our memories. Memory seems incredibly personal to us, so the fact that there were people trying to invade and manipulate that part of who we are seemed incredibly controversial and interesting to us. In addition, if scientists were able to implant false memories, they may be getting close to recovering the memories of those affected by PTSD or Alzheimer's.

How it works

Say the experiment was carried out on a guy named Chris. His family members were asked to describe few memories of him to the experimenter. For example a childhood memory of a birthday party. Then the experimenter described three of those true memories to him along with a fourth memory which seemed realistic but is false. Chris then had to identify which the falls memory was. Now here’s where the experiment gets its name ‘Lost in the mall from’. The false memory was of him getting lost in a mall when he was a kid. Chris described that memory to be true and on of the true memories to be false. The memory of him being lost in the mall was said to be ‘implanted’. He was then told about the experiment in a way that didn’t traumatize Chris.
The lost in mall experiment has been replicated and experimented on several different age groups and it is found that it works the most on children.

Important Research & Psychologists:

Lost in the Mall (False Memory)

The Brain: (picture of a mouse's hippocampus shown)

During the implantation of a false memories, brain cells associated with other memories are triggered by the familiar aspects of the false memory, which then draws conclusions to incorporate the event that never actually happened, making it seem more plausible. The hippocampus is used to form both short and long-term memory, so this is where the change occurs in the brain when this technique of memory implantation occurs. There isn't exactly a failure of a part of the brain, but rather a confusion among the neurons in the hippocampus. By drawing on plausible occurrences, the scientists are able to implant a memory that, while false, contained the makings of a plausible memory by including familiar people and places, along with a false action or event. By being able to manipulate the memory neurons, psychologists are working towards better helping those affected by memory disorders like PTSD and other emotional issues.

A cure to Alzheimer's? Memory implant.

Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, has been studying the behavior of neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain known to be involved in memory formation. He has designed silicon chips to mimic the signal processing those neurons do when they're functioning properly. Berger's goal is "to improve the quality of life for somebody who has a severe memory deficit.” Berger and his team of researchers have yet to conduct experiments on humans. Their work with monkeys, rabbits, and rats has gleaned positive results and has been well documented.

One fear Berger and his team share is that the codes they believe represent memories are not generalizable, leaving them to wonder whether they've actual cracked the code or merely deciphered a few simple memories.

If this code is cracked, and if this works, it can be a major breakthrough in the history of science and medicine. It will allow millions of Alzheimer’s patients, dementia and cognitive impairment patients to live a normal life.

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