coste087: October 2011 Archives

False Memories

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This weekend my roommate was watching a lifetime movie called "Committed." I got sucked in to watching the movie, which is the story of a woman psychologist who is freshly a widow. She decides to take a position offered to her at a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane, but soon after arriving she realizes that she has actually been tricked into coming and has been committed as a patient. The movie reminded me of something we touched on in lecture and discussion section because the woman in the movies "mentors" who we later find out are patients who have murdered their doctors work to implant false memories. First her "mentors" ask the woman over and over again to try to remember how her husband died. She insists that she remembers nothing. Finally they allude to the possibility that she found him. Yes, now she thinks she remembers finding his body and he was bloody. Then the therapists "reveal" to her that she had found his body after he committed suicide. They tell her what room in her house it happened in as well as what he used to hang himself. Later they tell her that first she had to accept that her husband was dead, but that he actually didn't die from committing suicide, apparently she killed him. She found out he was cheating on her with patients of his and she shot him. In the end we find out this is not true, and that the patients planted this in her head to convince her that she had killed before so that she would be more inclined to kill "again."
Our textbook goes into detail about how recalling events that never happened, such as those recalled by the victim in the movie are surprisingly easy to conjure up. The methods the criminals used to implant false memories in the victim are summarized in the textbook as suggestive memory techniques. These include providing misinformation, the misinformation they provided to the woman in the film was plausible and extremely detailed. By making the victim envision herself killing her husband over and over again it became more lucid. The criminals also created fake newspaper articles. Typically the newspaper is a source of truth, because of this the woman in the movie fell victim to bias, not questioning the newspaper because she never had before. The most annoying thing about the film was that the woman in it was supposed to be a psychologist, a person who is supposed to think scientifically. She didn't question the extraordinary claims her captors were presenting her with, she didn't try to falsify their claims, or question their legitimacy.

"The customer is always right" is by and large the golden rule in the food service industry. But the longer I have worked as a waitress, the more clear it has become to me that customers, whether doing so intentionally or not, find pleasure in having control over servers and often see how much they can get away with. They take advantage of the fact that in general a server must remain respectful if they expect a tip. This is a real life example of operant conditioning. In the Lilienfeld text operant conditioning is defined as learning controlled by the consequences of an organisms behavior. So with money/a tip as a reward, over 4 years I have been shaping my behavior in ways I have found I can get the most money out of people (it sounds greedy, but it is my wage). The difference between waiting tables and the example given in the text of pigeons discerning Monet's from Picasso's paintings is that the pigeons were either right or wrong, with waiting tables there is a large amount of gray area. Some people wish they didn't have to talk to you at all, and others find it disconcerting that the person who is going to bring them their hamburger doesn't want to know their life story. So I have to resort to picking up cues based on my initial impressions of customers and past experience and act accordingly. My acting how I think they want me to is termed in psychology as "demand characteristics" and psychologists constantly try to prevent it with "distractor" tasks or "filler" items. I think customers do the same- many people try to catch me off guard, asking me for a knife and then asking me a personal question. I've also found they will watch me take orders at other tables and watch me interact with my co-workers. Sometimes people will shake their ice in their empty glasses to send me a "discriminative stimulus," I find this incredibly rude and respond not by immediately getting them another drink but walking to their table and insolently asking if they would like a refill. I can be cheeky with this person because I have already judged the probability of them leaving me a good tip as slim using "representativeness heuristic," and I'm not going to waste my time trying to please them when I have 7 other much more pleasant tables. Unlike classical conditioning, where a reward is provided unconditionally, reward in operant conditioning is contingent on the behavior. What makes being a waitress difficult is that desired behavior varies from each table, and you can't always get it right. A story from the radio and TV show "This American Life," investigated a restaurant in one episode that turns the operant organism into the customer- if you want your food and you get out of line the servers will get out of line with you too and you might not get what you paid for. The free for all going on at this place actually becomes pretty frightening-all inhibitions and taboos of how to act in society seem to be forgotten. If you want to see the video it is on youtube and can be found using the keywords "This American Life" and "Wiener Circle," I chose not to post it here because there is extremely inappropriate language and a lot of crude comments- but it shows how really terrifying people can be when they feel like they have no control over a situation.

More often than one would expect some very trivial headlines pop up in even the most reliable news resources. Some that are particularly interesting to me are the constant accounts of the Virgin Mary and her many manifestations. She will appear as the burnt part of your toast, in the wrinkles of your sticky bun, in the scratches on the bottom of your Teflon pan, or in the reflections on the panels of the office building you work in. This recognition should sound familiar, as we learned in chapter one that humans often experience pareiodolia, which is defined in the Lilienfeld text as "The phenomenon of seeing meaningful images in meaningless visual stimuli."
People from Clearwater, Florida likely know of the event characterized on youtube as "A Miracle in Clearwater." This refers to a face on the side of an office building that had what some thought to be an uncanny likeness to the Virgin Mary. In one video created for the likeness to Mary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWul9UC_w_c) the author of the video asserts that the "apparition" was sighted on December 17th, and this date being so close to Christmas led many viewers to believe that the reflection had something to do with the birth of Christ. This tendency to make a connection is called apophenia "perceiving meaningful connections among unrelated and even random phenomena" (Carroll, 2003) It could be argued that only religious persons would see any significance in the event, but as the Lilienfeld text states "Our brains are predisposed to make order out of disorder and find sense in nonsense." Because it is human to want to dismiss entropy, we make sense of things that should not make sense sometimes, and this leads many people to make what is classified in our book as an extraordinary claim. What the people who truly believed that this was an apparition likely did not consider was why the Virgin Mary was showing up on "A Finance company office building," or how she came to be there. In a video from ted.com, Michael Shermer reveals that a sprinkler hitting a palm tree and then the building caused the image. He jokes that the same image showed up on the backside of the building, but that "they started to wipe off, I guess you can only have one miracle per building." (http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_shermer_on_believing_strange_things.html)

By placing the tendency we have to create meaningless connections in the pseudoscience section of the text, the author has given the condition negative connotations. I don't believe that creating such connections is always a bad thing, it can spark creativity, and it keeps people happy, and gives them a sense of security and control.

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