During the 1980's and 1990's I undertook a large amount of research into UFO abduction accounts, reported by individuals, both in Australia, and elsewhere in the world. I was the only Australian abduction researcher to present at the global 1992 abduction conference held at MIT.
Like every other abduction researcher I was confronted by adults who recalled childhood abductions, and by children who told of personal encounters.
A Melbourne six year old boy told of little men entering his bedroom; Wayne, aged 35 from Tasmania spoke of recalling events from age 4; a Sydney man related memories of an encounter at age 3 or 4 while in England.
I wondered as to the reliability of adults remembering things from a young age,and I wondered as to the reliability of children's' accounts.
The Grand Delusion:
Recently, I was reading New Scientist magazine (number 2812, p38 dated 14 May 2011)and noted an article by Graham Lawton, titled "The Grand Delusion." Part of it seemed relevant to my wonderings.
"We've known since the 1960's that memory isn't like a video recording - it's reconstructive," says psychologist David Gallo of the University of Chicago." Memory is fallible and suggestible.
"It is probably true that all autobiographical memories are suspect" Kimberley Wade, University of Warwick. Research has shown some of our memories of specific events are false."
The last comment about specific event memories, made me question whether anyone had undertaken research into the possibilities of inducing false memories into children?
I went to the net and found that, not only had someone looked at this very topic, they had done it using a false memory of a UFO abduction! How specific could you get?
Abducted by a UFO:
The article was titled "Abducted by a UFO: Prevalence Information Affects Young Children's False Memories of an Implausible Event."
Authored by Henry Otgaar; Ingrid Candel; Harald Merckelbach and Kimberley Wade it appeared in the Journal "Applied Cognitive Psychology" 2009. 23:115-125.
The article summary reads:
"This study examines whether prevalence information promotes children's false memories for an implausible event. Forty-four 7-8 and forty-seven 11-12 year old children heard a true narrative about their first school day and a false narration about either an implausible event (abducted by a UFO)or a plausible event (almost chocking on a candy.) Moreover, half of the children in each condition received prevalence information in the form of a false newspaper article while listening to the narratives.
Across two interviews, children were asked to report everything they remembered about the event. In both age groups, plausible and implausible events were equally likely to give rise to false memories.
Prevalance information increased the number of false memories in 7-8 year olds, but not in 11-12 year olds at interview 1.
Our findings demonstrate that young children can easily develop false memories of a highly implausible event."
The true narratives were such things as the child's first day at school, verified by their parents.
One false narrative was:
"Abducted by a UFO: Your mother told me that when you were 4 years old, you were abducted by a UFO. This happened when you were alone outside. Your mother was inside the house. The she suddenly saw through the window that a UFO took you."
Among the study findings was "A substantial number of children (over 70%) falsely remembered that they were abducted by a UFO. Although previous studies have looked at the cognitive characteristics of individuals who report UFO abductions (Clancy, McNally, Schacter, Lenzenweger & Pitman, 2002; McNally,Lasko, Clancy, Macklin, Pitman and Orr, 2004) this is the first study that succeeded to implant false memories of UFO abductions."
While appreciating that this is an academic study, there are some clear implications for UFO abduction research. If it is possible in an academic setting to implant a false memory of a UFO abduction, could UFO researchers either inadvertently or deliberately implant such memories in children, or adults during their investigations?
I encourage readers to add their thoughts.