Monday, October 22, 2012

How a meme gets into your head

Cover of "Total Recall"
Cover of Total Recall
No, this is not "Total Recall" (or Rekall, if you insist) sci-fi universe, and yes, false memory *can* be planted in many people's minds. It's called "repressed memory".

In the 1990's, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus was one of the top experts on "false memories". In most cases, all it takes is a couple fake photos and fake news items. By showing you some fake photos, you'll probably believe something happened, when it didn't. At least 30% of you will claim to have memories of this actually happening.

Slate actually ran an experiment in 2010... They Photoshop'ed (tm) a few fake photos (such as... US president Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian president Ahmedinhjad, which never happened), and showed it to over 5000 people. Results are surprising... most can't pick out the fake events from the real ones, even when told at least one of them is fake!

Furthermore, you can easily "coach" someone into adding something into their memory that *could* have happened, but didn't, and convince them it did. Dr. Loftus had an experiment in the 1990's where one student's brother convinced the student that he once was lost in the mall when he was a child. He was very sincere and believed it happened. But it never did happen. The memory was planted, and the mind filled in the rest of the details. This basically proved that "repressed memories", like the case where the girl claimed her father had murdered her best childhood friend, may have been "coached" (whether deliberately or accidentally) by the interviewer / hypnotist who helped the "recovery" of such memories.

By sketching the events, and act confidently, the scammers can convince their victims to believe that certain things never happened (but did) or vice versa, that things did happen (but actually didn't).

The recipe for "adding false memory" is deceptively simple:

1) Victim must trust the scammer... family, friend, etc.
2) Scammer "suggests" that the event happened and encourage the victim to think about it
3) Make sure the details are authentic, and the victim is already familiar with the details
4) Encourage the victim to continue to imagine the scene as it *may* have happened.

Now the victim has the memory planted in his/her head, and the idea will grow, as the victim will add his or her own details to the narrative, and take authorship of the story by filling in details from other parts of his/her life (even fiction).

If the scammer wants the victim to believe something that's false, like "Acme XYZ is a completely legitimate business", the scammer can use the SAME TECHNIQUES as above, merely by being assertive, and repeat the statement, and supposed evidence. After a few repetitions, the victim will believe the narrative and start to create his or her own defense of that narrative.

This happens over and over. You could say that the "meme" (idea) took hold in that person and started to flourish.

When the meme is a lie, like "Zeek Rewards is a legitimate and profitable opportunity", then you have a huge problem that involves up to two million people and hundreds of millions of dollars.


For a longer version of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus' story, please read this Slate article:

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