Belief in reincarnation tied to memory errors [Excerpts]
Tendency could explain why some cling to implausible reincarnation claims
By Melinda Wenner
April 6, 2007
People who believe they have lived past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study.
The propensity to make these mistakes could, in part, explain why people cling to implausible reincarnation claims in the first place.
Researchers recruited people who, after undergoing hypnotic therapy, had come to believe that they had past lives.
The researchers found that, compared to control subjects who dismissed the idea of reincarnation, past-life believers were almost twice as likely to misidentify names. In particular, their tendency was to wrongly identify as famous the non-famous names they had seen in the first task. This kind of error, called a source-monitoring error, indicates that a person has difficulty recognizing where a memory came from.
Power of suggestion
People who are likely to make these kinds of errors might end up convincing themselves of things that aren't true, said lead researcher Maarten Peters of Maastricht University in The Netherlands. When people who are prone to making these mistakes undergo hypnosis and are repeatedly asked to talk about a potential idea -- like a past life -- they might, as they grow more familiar with it, eventually convert the idea into a full-blown false memory.
This is because they can't distinguish between things that have really happened and things that have been suggested to them, Peters told LiveScience.
Past life memories are not the only type of implausible memories that have been studied in this manner. Richard McNally, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, has found that self-proclaimed alien abductees are also twice as likely to commit source monitoring errors.