Why your partner thinks you said things you know you didn’t say

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Why does your partner think you said that?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

False Memories.

What we remember about things others say can depend on our mood.

 

Two men go out to dinner with their dates. Let’s call them Bob and Sam. Bob goes home sure that his date did not like him. Sam is sure his date did. The two women said exactly the same things to their dates. Why the difference?

This happens a lot. You swear you didn’t say something, your partner swears you did. Neither of you may be lying but one of you has got this conversation wrong. Why?

One cause of memory failures is false memories. They happen more often than most of us realize and they cause a lot of relationship problems. Those memories are easier to create than you might think.

Researchers have sophisticated ways of testing for false memories and the way they are created or perpetuated. In pasts posts, we talked about how drugs and alcohol can increase false memories, but your personality and that of your partner are also factors. False memories are dependent on your mood at the time you hear things. They are also affected by your normal personality and way of perceiving the world.

Info about false memories and why they occur in relationships.

A test for false memories would consist of asking you to remember a list of words. Say the list included, night, bed, pillow, nap, etc. The next time you see the researcher you read a list of words and are asked to mark which you saw the first time.

This time included in the list is a word that was not there the first time but would have fit with the category that made up that list. In this case, the missing word might have been sleep. So if you picked sleep it made sense, but in fact, the word was not there the first time. If you said that you remembered it this would be a false memory.

In our date example, we find that in both cases the woman told their date that they had an interesting tie. Bob the perennial pessimist is sure his date said he had an awful tie. Sam remembers his date as saying he had a nice tie. Sam is an optimist.

The mood, as well as the basic personality of these two men, causes them to hear the same information but they both remember things that the date did not say. What they are remembering is a form of false memory in which their mind has filled in the words needed to make sense of the comment “interesting tie.”

One way to check this out in the lab would be to leave the word “sleep” out of the retest. This time if we added two words to the list, say insomnia and restful, we could see if there was a difference in the way two people would remember that list.

Sure enough, pessimists will remember insomnia and swear it was on the first list and optimists will remember the word rest. Both are making errors in their memory. Neither is lying but they both are sure they remember things that did not happen because they learned the list of words as a category, not as a list. Then when they are retested they fill in another word that fits their version of what the category is about.

So consider that some of the things you and those around you swear were said or happen may, in fact, be false memories. How sure are you that you actually heard the things you think you heard?

Sometimes for the sake of relationships and our long-term sanity, it pays to check out with the other person what they really said or meant. That way our minds do not need to fill in missing information and there are fewer chances to create these troublesome false memories in the first place.

What is the chance that memory you are arguing about is a false memory?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Drugs increase false memories

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

They may not be lying;

They remember things that never happened.

Drugs suppress true memories but also increase false memories. We have heard a lot about false memories over the last few years. Most of it around questioning techniques that suggested to children they had been abused. As a result, they began to believe these things had happened and then thought they remembered things which turned out to be false memories.

Recent research suggests that drugs and alcohol, as well as certain emotional states, may increase the risk that what people in recovery are remembering did not actually happen despite their memories.

People with certain mental or emotional problems are at increased risk to have false memories even if they never abused substances. Something about the chemistry of the brain regulates not only true memories but also creates false memories. We can get ourselves into trouble when we start believing memories that never happened.

There is a common belief in recovery circles that substance abusers have told stories, lies, so often they begin to believe their own dishonesties. I have seen enough examples of this phenomenon to believe it does happen. But the creation of false memories goes beyond simple lies and the person who told that lie beginning to believe the falsehood.

One group of researchers conducted a study using two commonly used and abused substances and came up with some surprising results (Ballard et al 2012) surprising to me anyway.

The test they used, called the DRM, gives people a list of words, such as bed, rest, awake, tired, dream. What is missing from the list is a word that would be commonly associated with the word list but which was never shown to the research participants. In this case, the word they are looking for was “sleep.”

If you remember the list correctly or are very observant you know that sleep was not on the list. The trick here is to see how many people will swear that the missing word, in this case, sleep, was shown to them. Using a procedure like this the researcher can see if a specific drug or emotional condition will increase the risk of a false memory. In this experiment, they wanted to see how many people would say that the word sleep was shown to them when it had not been a part of the experience.

This simple experiment may not make much difference. Does it matter if I think sleep was on the list of words I read? But if a drug or emotion increases my errors on this test it suggests that I may remember other things that did not happen. Did I remember someone being at the party that was never there? Do you remember being touched inappropriately when what really happened was a handshake or a pat on the back? Those things matter.

Some drugs reduce your ability to remember things that did happen. Alcohol is at the head of the list. Benzodiazepines also impair memory. Some drugs have been called date rape drugs and banned or tightly controlled for the same reason. The big question has been what effect do these drugs have on the creation of false memories? Ballard and group looked at that question.

It would be easy to conclude that depressant drugs like Alcohol and benzodiazepines would reduce memory and therefore give room for more false memories to fill in the gap. There is a related concept called “Confabulation” in which alcoholics brains fill in the gaps in memory that are the result of not having stored memories in the first place. Confabulation plus blackouts leave the memory of Alcoholics suspect.

We would expect that stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines would increase true memories and reduce the chance of false memories. That is not what happens. In Ballard’s study Amphetamines, of the type prescribed for ADHD, increased true memories but also increased false memories. An earlier study by Capek and Guenther (2009) cited by Ballard found the same effects for Caffeine.

It would appear that depressants reduce true memories and allow for false memories and stimulant increase memory formation of both true and false memories.

So what about “All Arounder’s.” (See Inaba & Cohen book Uppers, Downers, and All Arounder’s, 2004.)  Ballard and friends also looked at the effects of Marijuana on memory. While I try to stay out of the whole medical marijuana debate some of you may remember my previous post on the effects of Marijuana on memory. That post was about the effects on storage and retrieval of true memories, what about marijuana’s effect on false memories?

The drug used in Ballard’s study was THC, the most studied active ingredient in Marijuana, given in pill form. While this is not exactly the same as smoking Marijuana it is likely to be very similar and much more specific that studies using drugs of unknown potency. There are other chemicals in smoked Marijuana and the research on those other compounds is very lacking.

They found that Amphetamines had a larger effect in creating false memories than THC and while THC may affect both memory storage and memory retrieval, this study at least did not find a significant increase in false memories for THC users.

There are lots of problems with taking studies done in the lab and translating them to the experiences of people who take drugs in their daily life.

It is worth noting that there was significant individual variation in the effects of both drugs on true and false memory. So the conclusions are for all the people in the study as a group and individual results did vary. This raises questions about what individual differences account for these variations.

In Ballard’s study, as in so many other studies, people with diagnosed mental illnesses or those with a current substance abuse problem are not included in the study. Those are exactly the people for whom the effects of drugs and mood states on false memory may be the most critical.

There are some studies of people with various mental health diagnoses examining the effects of having an emotional issue and the creation of false memories. In a future post, I want to talk about the effects of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD on true and false memories.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.