Fake memories

A flash of light in the brain plants false memories

By Stephen Ornes, 13:46 PM August 7, 2013

Three steps to plant a fake memory in a mouse. First, let the mouse build a real memory of a safe room (left). Second, put the mouse in a room with an electrified floor. Shock the mouse — but add the memory of the shock to the memory of the first room. Third, put the mouse back in the safe room — which the mouse now incorrectly “remembers” as dangerous. Credit: courtesy of Evan Wondolowski/Collective Next

A little light in just the right spot: That's all it takes to get a mouse to remember something that never happened. The spot that needs to be “enlightened” lies deep inside the brain. It’s within a seahorse-shaped region called the hippocampus. By tweaking cells here, scientists have created fake memories — in mice.

Errors frequently plague our memories. The new study shows not only that memory can be unreliable but also that memories can be deliberately altered, at least in the lab.

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