Mechanisms of short-term false memory formation

Achille Pasqualotto, Michael J. Proulx

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False memories are the erroneous recollection of events that did not actually occur. False memories have been broadly investigated within the domain of long-term memory, while studies involving short-term memory are less common and provide a far less detailed ‘picture’ of this phenomenon. We tested participants in a short-term memory task involving lists of four semantically related words that had to be matched with a probe word. Crucially, the probe word could be one of the four words of the list, it could be semantically related to them, or it could be semantically unrelated to the list. Participants had to decide whether the probe was in the list. To this task we added articulatory suppression to impair rehearsal, concurrent material to remember, and changes to the visual appearance of the probes to assess the mechanism involved in short-term memory retrieval. The results showed that, similarly to the studies on long-term memory, false memories emerged more frequently for probes semantically related to the list and when rehearsal was impaired by concurrent material. The visual appearance of the stimuli did not play an important role. This set of results suggests that deep semantic processing, rather than only superficial visual processing, is taking place within a few seconds from the presentation of the probes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-8
Number of pages6
JournalThe Journal of Neurobehavioral Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date12 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • False memories
  • short-term memory
  • consciousness
  • semantic processing


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