Date: Mon Aug 01 1994 00:00:58
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Implanting UFO Memories
UFO memories found easy to plant Researchers describe experiments
that show how easy it is to implant ideas through suggestion
The Toronto Star
SEATTLE - Sharon Filip, a Seattle hypnotherapist, vividly
remembers a close encounter with a UFO as a child and later being
kidnapped by space aliens who materialized from thin air.
Chris recalls the trauma of being separated from his parents in a
shopping mall when he was 5 years old and how he was helped by a
kindly old man wearing a checkered shirt.
Both are convinced their experiences are real because they remember
them clearly and in detail. But in at least one case the memories
are completely bogus.
The human brain's ability to create false memories of traumatic
moments, from sexual abuse to encounters with extraterrestrials,
is fast becoming a hot topic among psychologists.
``It is possible with enough suggestion to get people to believe
they had entire experiences that never happened,'' says
psychologist Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington in
Seattle. ``False beliefs now involve a lot of people.''
During a recent conference here sponsored by the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, researchers
described a string of experiments that showed just how easy it is
to implant memories that mimic recollections of real events.
The researchers also argued that experts - psychologists,
therapists and others - are ill-equipped to help patients separate
fact from fantasy.
``Professionals have no `Pinocchio test' (to determine) when
children are exposed to repeated suggestion,'' says Stephen Ceci,
professor of psychology at Cornell University. ``We act as though
In the case of Chris, identified only by his first name, his
childhood memory of being lost in a shopping mall was planted in a
laboratory experiment in which Loftus and other researchers used
leading questions to suggest the incident had actually happened.
The memory was completely false but Chris not only came to believe
the event was real, he unconsciously manufactured details.
Even when the research team told him the event was concocted, the
teenager did not believe them.
``I'm not saying every account of alien abduction or sexual abuse
arises this way, but this can help us understand why false
memories might be created,'' Loftus says. ``It dilutes and
trivializes the cases of real abuse.''
The phenomenon can destroy lives when it surfaces in cases of
alleged sexual abuse, when a false memory can tear families apart
and send innocent people to jail.
The younger the subject, researchers contend, the easier it is to
create a false memory through suggestion.
``Kids are disproportionately vulnerable to a whole bag of
suggestive techniques,'' Ceci says.
Tales of UFO abductions, often recalled using the same techniques,
provide some evidence of how the human mind unwittingly
manufactures horrific tales.
Renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, a staunch believer of life in outer
space, says he would love to see evidence that Unidentified Flying
Objects are from distant worlds, ``even if the aliens inside are a
little short, grumpy, sullen and sexually preoccupied.''
But, he says, there is no reason to believe the stories when the
evidence falls apart on close examination.
While some experts like University of Kentucky psychologist Robert
Baker argue that elements of UFO abduction stories can easily be
explained by a list of well-known psychological phenomena, others
like Harvard University psychiatrist John Mack insist the
experiences may be real.
Baker contends, for example, that sleep paralysis can make people
feel terrified while producing hallucinations that provide a
``When you hypnotize people, you're turning on their imagination.
And when you turn on your imagination, all things are possible,''
Baker says. ``These experiences seem very real. If they didn't
seem real, they wouldn't be hallucinations.''
Baker notes that a number of people who claimed to have been
abducted by space creatures referred to ``missing time'' in which
they were unable to remember what happened for an hour or two.
``The reason they can't remember anything is that nothing
happened,'' he says, adding that many people give the same
description of aliens because of images planted by the media.
Mack, however, counters that many of the claims could not be based
on stories in the media because they were not reported by the
media. ``We are dealing with a phenomenon that cannot be laughed
away,'' he says.
While researchers say the motivation for making up experiences may
range from aspirations to fame, money or some other motive, many
of those with bogus memories may use them as a way to deflect
blame or guilt from themselves.
``We all want to believe that what we remember really happened,''
says Susan Blackmore, a psychologist at the University of the West
of England in Bristol. With false memories people ``can blame
someone else for their problems.''