Childhood memories not what they seem

Some of our most cherished and vivid childhood memories may be nothing but figments of imagination.

A team including a Hull psychologist found memory really can play tricks after interviewing 1,600 students.

They were asked to recall memories of events they now knew had not taken place.

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A fifth said they experienced "fictional" memories, mostly dating back to when they were four to eight years old.

In some cases, a parent or sibling revealed the truth about a false memory.

On other occasions, the event or incident was so implausible it simply could not have happened – despite being clearly recalled.

One participant remembered meeting the real Santa Claus, while another recalled seeing a living dinosaur.

Others had memories of flying unaided, and one remembered being a hockey player, even though she never played the game.

Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, from the University of Hull's psychology department, said: "Autobiographical memory provides us with a sense of identity and it is usually accurate enough to help us negotiate our lives.

"But as our study shows, not all that we remember about our past is true.

"Our research also shows that this phenomenon of non-believed memories is much more frequent than people had imagined."

One famous account of a non-real memory involved the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget.

For years he believed he had been kidnapped in a park at the age of two and could even recall scratches on his nurse's face caused by the attacker.

Thirteen years later the nurse confessed she had made up the story.