Memory & Cognition

, Volume 38, Issue 7, pp 833-848

First online:

False memories and fantastic beliefs: 15 years of the DRM illusion

  • David A. GalloAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Center of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago Email author 


This article reviews research using the Deese/Roediger—McDermott (DRM) associative memory illusion, whereby people falsely remember words that were not presented. This illusion has broadly influenced basic theories of memory in cognitive psychology and neuroscience and naturally raises the question as to how these theories apply to more complex autobiographical memories. Some applicability is evident from research linking individual differences in the DRM illusion to false autobiographical memories (e.g., misremembering public events) and fantastic autobiographical beliefs (e.g., memories from past lives). But which aspects generalize? Here it is argued that a process—oriented approach is needed in order to answer this question. Many productive years of DRM research indicate that multiple and often opposing psychological processes cause even the most basic false memories. In light of these discoveries, more researchers need to use methods that isolate these component processes if the goal is to understand false memories both in the lab and in life.