False Memories Are Most Often Linked to the Subjects We Know Best

iStock / iStock

No one is safe from the occasional faulty memory invading their thoughts. According to new research, our brains are even more likely to form them when confronting subjects we’re especially interested in, Live Science reports.

The study, which will be presented by researchers at a meeting of the British Psychological Society on September 1, showed 489 participants news stories relating to a variety of topics. Some stories actually happened, while others were made up for the purpose of the experiment. When asked about a topic they were interested in, whether it was football, politics, business, technology, film, science, or pop music, 25 participants reported remembering occurrences that never actually happened. That’s compared to just 10 percent of volunteers who exhibited false memories when looking at stories related to subjects they had less interest in.

A similar trend appeared when participants were presented stories associated with their areas of expertise. Respondents who reported being knowledgeable about a subject were twice as likely to remember fictional events connected to the subject.

The researchers aren’t sure why interest or expertise in a topic is more likely to produce false memories, but they do offer a possible explanation. If a person stores a lot of information in their brain on a particular subject, they could be more likely to confuse one of their actual memories with something that’s made up.

Better understanding how false memories originate could have big implications in fields like psychology and criminal investigation. Study co-author Ciara Greene said in a statement quoted by The Telegraph:

"Increasing scientific and public understanding of the causes of false memory is an important goal, particularly in light of some of the more negative consequences associated with the phenomenon, including faulty eyewitness accounts and the controversies surrounding false memories of traumatic childhood events."

On a much smaller scale, the findings could help more of us admit when we’re wrong when arguing about our favorite topics.

[h/t Live Science]