Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 597–603 | Cite as

A picture is worth a thousand lies: Using false photographs to create false childhood memories

  • Kimberley A. Wade
  • Maryanne GarryEmail author
  • J. Don Read
  • D. Stephen Lindsay
Brief Reports


Because image-enhancing technology is readily available, people are frequently exposed to doctored images. However, in prior research on how adults can be led to report false childhood memories, subjects have typically been exposed to personalized and detailed narratives describing false events. Instead, we exposed 20 subjects to a false childhood event via a fake photograph and imagery instructions. Over three interviews, subjects thought about a photograph showing them on a hot air balloon ride and tried to recall the event by using guided-imagery exercises. Fifty percent of the subjects created complete or partial false memories. The results bear on ways in which false memories can be created and also have practical implications for those involved in clinical and legal settings.


False Memory False Recall Imagery Instruction False Event Perceptual Detail 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Belli, R. F., &Loftus, E. F. (1996). The pliability of autobiographical memory: Misinformation and the false memory problem. In D. C. Rubin (Ed.),Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory (pp. 157–179). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ceci, S. J., Huffman, M. L., &Smith, E. (1994). Repeatedly thinking about a non-event: Source misattributions among preschoolers.Consciousness & Cognition,3, 388–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dolan, Y. M. (1991).Resolving sexual abuse: Solution-focused therapy and Ericksonian hypnosis for adult survivors. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  4. Finke, R. A., Johnson, M. K., &Shyi, G. C.-W. (1988). Memory confusions for real and imagined completions of symmetrical visual patterns.Memory & Cognition,16, 133–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gross, J., &Hayne, H. (1999). Drawing facilitates children's verbal reports after long delays.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied,5, 265–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Grumet, T. (1997, December). When seeing isn't believing.Popular Mechanics, pp. 98–99.Google Scholar
  7. Hyman, I. E., Jr., &Billings, F. J. (1998). Individual differences and the creation of false childhood memories.Memory,6, 1–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hyman, I. E., Jr.,Husband, T. H., &Billings, F. J. (1995). False memories of childhood experiences.Applied Cognitive Psychology,9, 181–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hyman, I. E., Jr., &Kleinknecht, E. E. (1999). False childhood memories. In L. M. Williams & V. L. Banyard (Eds.),Trauma and memory (pp. 178–188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Hyman, I. E., Jr., &Loftus, E. F. (1998). Errors in autobiographical memory.Clinical Psychology Review,18, 933–947.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hyman, I. E., Jr., &Pentland, J. (1996). The role of mental imagery in the creation of false childhood memories.Journal of Memory & Language,35, 101–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jacoby, L. L., Kelley, C. M., &Dywan, J. (1989). Memory attributions. In H. L. Roediger III & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.),Varieties of memory and consciousness: Essays in honour of Endel Tulving (pp. 391–422). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Johnson, M. K. (1988). Discriminating the origin of information. In T. F. Oltmanns & B. A. Maher (Eds.),Delusional beliefs (pp. 34–65). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, M. K., Hashtroudi, S., &Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Source monitoring.Psychological Bulletin,114, 3–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Loftus, E. F., &Pickrell, J. E. (1995). The formation of false memories.Psychiatric Annals,25, 720–725.Google Scholar
  16. Mided, J. (1998).The photographic image and the digital truth [On-line]. Available: Scholar
  17. Neimeyer, G. J., &Metzler, A. E. (1994). Personal identity and autobiographical recall. In U. Neisser & R. Fivush (Eds.),The remembering self: Construction and accuracy in the self-narrative (pp. 105–135). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Neimeyer, G. J., &Rareshide, M. B. (1991). Personal memories and personal identity: The impact of ego identity development on autobiographical memory recall.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,60, 562–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Neisser, U., &Libby, L. K. (2000). Remembering life experiences. In E. Tulving & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.),The Oxford handbook of memory (pp. 315–332). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Novey, P. (1999). The family album.Transactional Analysis Journal,29, 149–154.Google Scholar
  21. Pezdek, K., Finger, K., &Hodge, D. (1997). Planting false childhood memories: The role of event plausibility.Psychological Science,8, 437–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Poole, D. A., Lindsay, D. S., Memon, A., &Bull, R. (1995). Psychotherapy and the recovery of memories of childhood sexual abuse: U.S. and British practitioners' opinions, practices, and experiences.Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology,63, 426–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Porter, S., Yuille, J. C., &Lehman, D. R. (1999). The nature of real, implanted and fabricated memories for emotional childhood events: Implications for the false memory debate.Law & Human Behavior,23, 517–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Weiser, J. (1990). More than meets the eye: Using ordinary snapshots as tools for therapy. In T. A. Laidlaw & C. Malmo (Eds.),Healing voices: Feminist approaches to therapy with women (pp. 83–117). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  25. Yuille, J. C., Hunter, R., Joffe, R., &Zaparniuk, J. (1993). Interviewing children in sexual abuse cases. In G. S. Goodman & B. L. Bottoms (Eds.),Child victims, child witnesses: Understanding and improving testimony (pp. 95–115). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberley A. Wade
    • 1
  • Maryanne Garry
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Don Read
    • 2
  • D. Stephen Lindsay
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations