Date: Mon Aug 01 1994 00:00:58 Subj: Implanting UFO Memories UFO memories found easy to pl

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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 07/16/94 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 we do.'' 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 seeming reality. ``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.''


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