Punked! Slate's Doctored Photos Mess With Readers' Memories

By Joseph Calamia | May 27, 2010 3:21 pm

clinton“How will we remember the 2000s? What were the high and low points? Who were the heroes and villains?” William Saletan asked in a Slate article last week.

Do you remember when Senator Joe Lieberman voted to convict President Clinton at his impeachment trial, when President George W. Bush chilled at his Texas ranch with Roger Clemens while Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and when Hillary Clinton used Jeremiah Wright in a 2008 TV attack ad against Barack Obama?

You shouldn’t remember any of these things, because they didn’t happen. But Slate made pictures to use as evidence that these events did actually occur as an exercise in “altering political memories.” Slate mixed doctored photos of these fake events with other photos of real ones, and asked the readers which they remembered. The readers had no idea they were part on an experiment in memory hacking.

More people remembered the real ones, Slate reports:

In the first three days the experiment was posted, 5,279 subjects participated. All of the true incidents outscored the false ones. Our subjects were more likely to remember seeing Powell’s Iraq presentation (75 percent), Katherine Harris presiding over the Florida recount (67 percent), or Tom DeLay leading the congressional effort to save Schiavo (50 percent) than any of the five fake scenes.

But people remembered the fakes too. A fake screenshot of the Hillary Clinton ad, for example, fooled 36 percent of readers into thinking it had actually happened. “At that time I was backing Hillary for President. I didn’t like it that she used this rather sleazy ad, but her campaign did remove it,” one respondent said.

The stunt paid homage to memory research; a series of articles on Elizabeth Loftus‘ human memory research at the University of California at Irvine will follow. Slate meant to show the power of images in producing false memories. Besides quoting George Orwell, they also mentioned a 2002 experiment that, with a little Photoshop magic, fooled 10 out of 20 college students into believing they had gone up in hot-air balloons as children.

Related content:
80beats: Lasers Write False, Fearful Memories into the Brains of Flies
80beats: Neuroscientist Says Torture Produces False Memories and Bad Intel
DISCOVER: Are Recovered Memories Real?
DISCOVER: How Much of Your Memory Is True?

Image: flickr / Nrbelex

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
  • AC

    Remembering false news reports is ‘true’ memory – of false news reports.

    Elizabeth Loftus is a fraud whose lab results are ‘fudged.’ She makes a living discredting child witnesses on the witness stand by claiming their memories of abuse are “false.” Actually, she is false, and so is your report, which pretends to support her ersatz research but actually only proves that people can be deceived.

    An accurate recollection of a deceptive report is not a false memory. But Loftus wants us to believe that it is because then she can get away with marginalizing sexually abused children with her “false” memory nonsense.

    Loftus was exposed by Patrick Fitzgerald, among many others (including myself), and made a laughingstock under questioning, as reported by the Washington Post in connection with the Plame case. Her organization, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, has multiple ties to pedophiles, NAMBLA and intelligence community adventures in human experimentation and torture.

    You enable organized pedophilia and child abuse by promoting Loftus. Nice going.

  • Murphy8

    These “stunts” just go to show that our memories of past news events that we’ve read about can modified. Imagine that! I don’t know about you. But I’m thinking it’s a huge leap of logic to go from there to saying that entire false memories of news events (or childhood trauma) can be planted.

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