Did you really see that? An image from a test for false memories developed by Ken Paller and colleagues of Northwestern University.
It's easy enough to forget something that happened. It's also possible to remember something that didn't happen. Researchers have used magnetic resonance imaging of the brain to record what happens when someone retrieves a real memory — and what happens when that same person conjures up an imagined or "false memory."
In testing for false memories, Ken Paller of Northwestern University and colleagues showed volunteers in an MRI brain scanner a series of pictures and words on a video screen. After some words, volunteers were shown an actual picture of the object described. For words without pictures, they were told to visualize the object and imagine whether it was large or small. When they emerged from the scanner, they were given a memory test for the pictures they'd seen.
Note: This test will play sound files. You'll need to have your speakers connected and volume turned up before running the demo.
As NPR's Michelle Trudeau reports, the study found that the parts of the brain used to perceive a real object overlap with those used to imagine that object. Because of this overlap, brain imaging is unlikely at this point to be useful in determining who is remembering accurately and who is remembering a false memory.