The Truth About False Memories – Media Psychology

We’ve been misled about the ease with which false memories can be implanted. Source: The Truth About False Memories By Denise Cummins Ph.D. A hailstorm of criticism continues to be leveled at NBC news anchor Brian Williams for “misreporting” that his helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while serving as a news correspondent covering […]

The Truth About False Memories — psych pstuff

Does B613 Really Exist? — Life Imitating Art Imitating Life



Hollywood will always be Hollywood. There will always be ridiculous chase scenes, impossible rescues and implausible conspiracies, each accompanied by the proverbial warning, “Don’t try this at home.” But sometimes, when art seems to imitate life and aspects of the fantasy world on the page or screen seem to mirror our reality, we end up asking ourselves, “Is it possible? Is that really true?”

The highly successful political drama series, Scandal, was a perfect case in point. The main character, Olivia Pope, a Washington crisis manager (a.k.a. “fixer”), was based on the real-world crisis manager and former Bush administration press aide, Judy Smith. Smith & Company has managed very real crises for clients such as Monica Lewinsky, Wesley Snipes, Michael Vick and Sony Pictures Entertainment as well as provided strategic communication consolation to various Fortune 500 companies. Olivia Pope & Associates managed the reputations of the Washington wealthy and powerful by whatever means necessary, escalating from manipulating media coverage to crime scene clean up and beyond, all while Olivia deftly (and sometimes not so deftly) managed an affair with POTUS.

But there’s more . . . because . . . Hollywood.

Just under a quarter of the way through Season 2 (of 7 seasons), in episode 13, we encountered the cryptic moniker B613. And just like that, the world of fixing was forever altered. Just like that, Scandal’s faithful audience wondered incredulously, “Does B613 really exist?” And despite its secrecy and lies, ruthless totalitarianism, brutal tactics and fearsome power, we (ahem . . . . I mean, they, of course) almost want it to.

But why?

From The Count of Monte Cristo to Charles Bronson movies, to Dexter, The Sopranos and Scandal, the theme of vigilante justice meted out by an ethical-but-not-too-ethical hero persists in the stories we tell. It persists because somewhere, hidden deep in the shadowy crevices of most minds, there is a desire for a protector who is smart enough, and powerful enough, and tough enough, to dispense real justice when the system breaks down.

We like the juxtaposition of tough (really tough) and tender. We feel for Tony Soprano when he struggles with the human condition as he sits across from his therapist, all the while knowing that in a previous episode we saw him carrying a severed head in a bowling ball bag after some serious “wet work.” Likewise, we (mostly) root for Olivia in love and war, even though we are well aware of her unscrupulous, illegal and immoral actions. We feel tenderness when those lips start to quiver.

Several psychological principles seem at play here.

Humans seem to be hard-wired, if you will, to evaluate for aspects of fairness. Fair treatment elicits positive emotions, while conversely, unfair treatment elicits negative emotions. The definition of fairness, of course, it mitigated by individual experience and cultural norms, but regardless of that definition, when principles of fairness are violated, humans tend to seek punishment and/or retribution. Of course, given the circumstances, exacting such justice in the face of injustice is not always possible, practical or beneficial. Yet the desire is there. And because this causes cognitive dissonance, individuals may seek other, less direct measures of righting the wrong — e.g., retribution by proxy. Enter the Dexters, the Tony Sopranos and the B613’s of the world, real or fictional.

A close cousin of our need for fairness is the concept of revenge. Revenge is most often, or most purely, sought in the pursuit of fairness, or rather righting unfairness. However, that definition of fairness as a justification, can be twisted, and revenge can be pursued for less noble causes that fairness — e.g., pure spite or jealousy — think the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding drama. Again, much of what we might fantasize as appropriate revenge may well be immoral and/or illegal. Thus, we count on others — whether the sanctioned processes of our legal system, or some such entity that rises above the constrains of that system — to do our so-called “dirty work.”

And then, the question becomes, “At what price, revenge?” What do we really gain in the quest to seek justice and retaliation? What do we lose? How much power do we relinquish to any entity to whom we give the task of executing our personal justice? How vulnerable do we become to them?

So back to B613. Does a secret agency exist that operates on a virtually unlimited budget beyond the oversight of government in order to protect “the Republic” in any way its Command sees fit? Some believe the answer, to some degree, is yes. Some believe it so for the sheer thrill and mystique of imagining a secret agency. Others, however, argue that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), established in 2010 by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, bears some resemblance to Scandal’s fictional organization. The CFPB is hardly a secret. It has its own .gov site. But it does operate as an “independent agency” outside the authority of Congress. Much like B613, the CFPB is, some argue, under the control of one person — not referred to as Command, but rather a Director — though the agency does indicate a Deputy Director in its org chart.

Much like B613, CFPB has proven itself masterful in the extraction of information from American companies and consumers. The Bureau has been accused of amassing consumer data on 85–90% of American consumer credit cards with outstanding balances, a data collection program that dwarfs even the NSA’s surveillance program. And though the CFPB has yet to engage in the strong-arm tactics and “enhanced interrogation techniques” of B613 (solitary confinement, waterboarding, torture), it does pack a punch, so to speak, along the order of fines and legal action.

While the CFPB’s role is exclusively financial (again, unlike B613), it has been criticized for its overarching authority, lack of accountability, unchecked power and capacity for unilateral decisions, even, or perhaps especially among other government agencies.

United States House Financial Services Committee openly criticized CFPB for its “radical structure that is controlled by a single individual who cannot be fired for poor performance and who exercises sole control over the agency, its hiring and its budget” (Hensarling, 2013). The committee cited a lack of financial transparency and a lack of accountability to Congress or the President.

Thus far, legal action against the CFPB has been twarted. However, in October 2019, the Supreme Court announced it would review the constitutionality of the Bureau’s structure with proceedings set to begin in March 2020. But like B613, the CFPB has its staunch supporters as well, who argue that such unprecedented authority is necessary to fulfill its overarching mandate — consumer protection.

Beyond the CFPB, some argue that the real life role of B613 is played by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) clandestine units or a branch of the National Security Agency (NSA). Others insist that nothing remotely resembling the fictional agency does or could exist in the US, given the elaborate set of checks and balances in our government.

Still others argue that while there may not be one central organization, as depicted on Scandal, countless “off-the-books operations” function in an ad hoc manner — a.k.a. covert operations or “black ops.” Now we’re moving into some gray area. Depending on how one depicts these operations, they could be considered sinister conspiracies or the typical modus operandi of national security, which, by nature must hold its proverbial cards close to its chest, so to speak. Obviously, our government, or any government, for that matter, cannot make all things public. The question becomes, as it so often does with all things of a moral and ethical nature, where to draw the line. Where exactly is that murky gray area between for-your-own-good and harmful deception? And, of course, who gets to decide?

These are dilemmas humankind has struggled with since the ancient philosophers. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it very, very wrong. And sometimes we are left with more questions than answers.

Even B613.

Hensarling, J. (June 18, 2013). CFPB Lacks Oversight and Accountability. U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. Archived from the original Press release .




Do We Control Our Own Purchasing Habits? — consumer psychology research

Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash Flaws in our decision-making ability are fuel for the market. Source: Do We Control Our Own Purchasing Habits? By Liraz Margalit Ph.D. Persuading rational people to make rational decisions is easy. Unfortunately, as humans, we’re often stuck with irrational thinking, fueled by cognitive biases and emotions. While we’d all […]

via Do We Control Our Own Purchasing Habits? — consumer psychology research

How Marketers Manipulate You Into Becoming Their Friend

consumer psychology research

Shocking research reveals why you like people (and companies) that deceive you

Source: How Marketers Manipulate You Into Becoming Their Friend

By Douglas Van Praet

There’s a good reason marketers want you to be their friend, family, club member or part of their “in-crowd.” Advertisers have learned that it pays to establish a strong affinity with their brand community. Today, community building in marketing and social media is the brand imperative. And “Friends and Family” loyalty programs now abound.

But consumer psychologists have now also learned that our affiliation with a group can create a bias in our judgments in favor of marketers. This lapse in judgment is in play, even when you are aware that the seller is deceiving you.

Most people believe they are being fair and impartial when judging the transgressions of others and how they should be punished. After all, what’s wrong is wrong. People and companies should be punished…

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The Era of “Move Fast and Break Things” Is Over


Here’s what that means for VCs and entrepreneurs.

Source: The Era of “Move Fast and Break Things” Is Over

By  Hemant Taneja

Many of today’s entrepreneurs live by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s now-famous motto: “Move fast and break things.” Zuckerberg intended for this to inform internal design and management processes, but it aptly captures how entrepreneurs regard disruption: more is always better. We raced to put our products into consumers’ hands as fast as possible, without regard for the merit of—and rationale for—offline systems of governance. This is increasingly untenable.

Larry Fink’s 2018 letter to CEOs articulated the need for a new paradigm of stakeholder accountability for businesses across the spectrum. In the technology sector, venture capitalists must play a role in driving this change. The technologies of tomorrow—genomics, blockchain, drones, AR/VR, 3D printing—will impact lives to an extent that will dwarf that of the technologies of the…

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The Emotions of Luxury

consumer psychology research

Photo by Danilo Capece on Unsplash

How emotions related to “self” and brand “truth” create perceptions of luxury.

Source: The Emotions of Luxury

ByPeter Noel Murray Ph.D.

When asked about luxury brands, most consumers mention unique design, great quality, high cost, and limited distribution. For many people, these are the characteristics that separate luxury from mainstream products.

A different question is why consumers buy luxury products. Studies show that the appeal of luxury is primarily psychological. These psychological factors, especially emotion, are the focus of my research.

But consumers also are rational beings; they are aware that they can buy products at mass-market retailers which have aesthetics and features similar to luxury brands but are a lot cheaper.

So how does the mind manage these complex behavioral judgments? Is the rational mind more likely to choose the mass market while our emotional mind yearns for luxury? Is it that simple?

Neuroscience tells…

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Can Hollywood Alter History? How Film Modifies Memory

Movies can influence how we (mis)remember the past.

Source: Can Hollywood Alter History? How Film Modifies Memory

By Alan Castel Ph.D.

Currently, a lot of information is presented to us, to believe or not to believe. With so much talk about alternative truths and fake news, it is more important than ever to decipher what is real and what is imaginary.

Movies provide a rich and engaging form of entertainment and education, as story-telling can also make people more aware of current and past events. Research has shown that people learn very effectively from stories and narratives, engaging our brain in ways that are both pleasurable and incredibly complex [1, 2], so movies (and not just documentary form) are often ways for people to learn about the past. Our imagination is ready for action, and movies can provide a tantalizing twist, often portraying World Wars, the Depression, slavery, the Holocaust, or space exploration. Actors can become incorporated into people’s imagery of the past, such as in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, and Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012).

The question is, to what degree can misinformation, or slight variations on what actually happened in the past, blend into people’s minds while watching movies? Does this sometimes less-than-accurate perspective then become embedded in memory, and with time, become a new version of the truth? This might be especially so for a younger generation, who do not personally remember the more remote past or did not live through the historical events in question.

As an example, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodprovides an engaging story and background for the 1969 events that led to the Sharon Tate Manson-clan murder spree. Living up to its story-book title (“Once Upon A Time…”) (spoiler alert) the movie provides a much different ending, as Sharon Tate never meets her demise in this tale. Most people over the age of 60 know about the Manson-family murders and Sharon Tate.

The movie provides a much less horrific ending for Tate and an alternative tale—complete with Tarantino-style violence (it involves a flame thrower) and using fantasy instead of historical facts. The Manson clan has the tables turned on them. However, in what is a deviation from the truth of what happened 50 years ago, it becomes possible that people (especially young adults) will now know a different version of reality—and may not question the movie’s twist on truth, and end up believing some of the fictitious events in the movie.

Research has shown that presenting people with misinformation—some information or event that is inconsistent with the truth of what happened earlier but is highly believable, can lead to not only some initial confusion, but it can then alter memory [3].  As a result of introducing misinformation in a psychology experiment on the exact topic, people will claim to have been lost in a mall as a child after being told this story had happened to them, or that as a child they met Bugs Bunny at Disneyland to refresh your memory, Bugs is a Warner Bros. character and thus couldn’t be seen at Disneyland) [4].

People are prone to believe stories and what makes sense often without questioning the events that are being suggested. Movies might provide just the right amount of entertaining and (sometimes subtle) misinformation that can lead to memories and history being altered in the process.

Movies provide us with entertainment and fodder for our imagination. They also reference history and make people think about what happened in the past, and what could happen in the future (such as the memorable Back to the Future trilogy). Presenting tales and alternative ending in the context of a real event can make people think what could have happened if only a few things were different—but these variations on the truth can also lead to some implanted memories for people who only have a vague understanding of the past.

In the context of persuasion and social psychology, the “sleeper” effect can lead people to believe something that they earlier didn’t believe or agree with, if they then experienced some reference to it and after some time they are even more likely to believe it [5].  Sleeper effects can make people believe things even if initially we are not likely to believe it.

Quentin Tarantino is not intentionally trying to dupe people into thinking things were different 50 years ago, instead he is allowing us to imagine how things could have been different if a few small or seemingly random events happened or different choices were made by certain characters. He took creative license to shed a brighter light (flame-thrower style) on a dark event.  Movies can allow the mind to imagine, and it is then up to us to differentiate what we imagine with what actually happened in the past, but sleeper effects can make us reimagine the past in ways that can have profound effects on our later memory, which can be modified each time we visit events from the past [6].  Students may also misremember historical events based on the movies that they were exposed to in classroom learning settings [7], suggesting that Hollywood can alter younger peoples’ perception of past historical events.

Ideally, movies that provide variations of the past will make people research what actually happened, to have a more complete understanding of the events, but it can also lead to some subtle changes in history from the younger viewers’ point of view.



1.    Zacks, J. M. (2015). Flicker: Your Brain on Movies. Oxford University Press, USA.

2.    Furman, O., Dorfman, N., Hasson, U., Davachi, L., & Dudai, Y. (2007). They saw a movie: Long-term memory for an extended audiovisual narrative. Learning & Memory, 14, 457-467.

3.    Loftus, E. F., & Hoffman, H. G. (1989). Misinformation and memory: The creation of new memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 118, 100-104.

4.    Loftus, E. F. (2005). Planting misinformation in the human mind: A 30-year investigation of the malleability of memory. Learning & Memory, 12, 361-366.

5.    Kumkale, G. T., & Albarracín, D. (2004). The sleeper effect in persuasion: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 143-172.

6.    Chan, J. C., & LaPaglia, J. A. (2013). Impairing existing declarative memory in humans by disrupting reconsolidation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 9309-9313.

7.     Butler, A. C., Zaromb, F. M., Lyle, K. B., & Roediger III, H. L. (2009). Using popular films to enhance classroom learning: The good, the bad, and the interesting. Psychological Science, 20, 1161-1168.


7 Essential Psychological Truths About Ghosting


Why “ghosting” hurts so much, why people do it, and how you can get over it.

Source: 7 Essential Psychological Truths About Ghosting

By Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP

Ghosting,” which has been in the common parlance for the past five or six years, was once known as the “slow fade.” It blew up in the popular press (including the New York Times) around mid-2015. For those who’ve never heard it before — and I can’t imagine there are many who haven’t — it means suddenly discontinuing all contact with another person to end a relationship. Ghosting can be failing to respond to a text exchange with someone you’ve never met, cutting off contact with someone you’ve dated a few times, or even refusing to return someone’s calls after a sexual involvement. If you’re dating, it can happen to you at any time, no matter how much investment you’ve placed in a potential partner.

A patient of mine, for instance, makes ghosting a regular practice, saying she just loses interest in the people she dates after they’ve had sex. To her, “ghosting” is a practical response to this problem. She has no other personal or professional overlap with the people she dates, and their friends don’t know hers, so when she stops responding to their texts, she knows there will be no consequences. Although my patient does feel guilty, she doesn’t see it as morally wrong, and she definitely doesn’t want the alternative — struggling through so many messy conversations! To my patient, ending communication suddenly is actually an elegant solution: The people she’s been dating can infer from her lack of contact that she’s no longer interested.

Her reasoning may strike many of today’s young adults as familiar. It’s altogether too easy to stop chatting with someone who can only contact you through your cell phone, which you can quickly set to ignore them. And it’s just as easy to meet someone new: There are hundreds of dating apps currently available — thousands, perhaps, if you count the small ones. With so many apps, each subscriber can find hundreds of people to date at any moment, so it might seem like a waste of time to treat each person with full politeness and courtesy. Online dating is fast-paced; if one option isn’t an immediate hit, you can move on to another immediately. Perhaps ghosters see the people they meet on the apps as if they’re walking profiles, something they can just swipe away if it’s not quite right. Of course, if you’re always looking around for someone just a little better than the person you’re chatting with on Hinge, it’s a good bet that that person is doing the same to you — which could further reduce your likelihood of making a real investment of time or energy.

It also takes courage to admit when we’re wrong, or when we’ve knowingly hurt someone. Ghosting is sometimes referred to as a form of cowardice: the refusal to acknowledge one’s own misconduct. And cognitive dissonance may play a role as well. Our brains naturally focus on information that confirms a preexisting belief about something, even when other evidence indicates that we might be wrong. Ghosters, like my patient, often go through elaborate cognitive gymnastics to convince themselves that what they do is totally fine. In addition, ghosting can also be the result of a particular set of beliefs about dating. Some people think of it as a way of finding the person they’re destined to spend their lives with and see their dating life as a targeted search for the ideal partner. These people don’t believe it’s possible for relationships to grow and change, or for attraction to deepen as time goes by; they do not have a growth mindset about romance. People who see dating this way are more likely to ghost when they decide that the person they’re dating is not 100 percent right for them. (According to the New York Times, the opposite is true as well: People who believe that attraction can grow and change in good ways, and who don’t hold their dates up to a hypothetical ideal, are less likely to abruptly disappear on their partners.)

When the person you like stops returning your texts, the emotional consequences can run from unpleasant to severe. There’s a profound lack of closure to the relationship, an ambiguity that makes it impossible to interpret what went wrong. The social cues present in a traditional breakup — reduction of time spent together, lack of eye contact, a change in the tone of interaction — are disorientingly absent. You may think your partner has begun dating someone else — or, worse, that they’ve finally recognized the things you hate about yourself. Ghosting causes you to question yourself, which can be devastating to your self-esteem. It deprives you of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship. In other words, it’s altogether too easy to draw troubling conclusions when you’ve been ghosted. Some even see it as similar to the silent treatment, which has been described as a form of emotional cruelty.

Ghosting is even more hurtful to people who have low self-esteem in the first place. If what one person believed was a substantial relationship ends suddenly — without even the effort it would take to have a traditional breakup — the results can even produce a traumatic reaction. In psychological studies, social rejection has even been found to activate the same neurological pathways as physical pain. People with low self-esteem also tend to release less internally generated opioids into the brain after rejection, as compared to those with higher self-esteem. In other words, low self-esteem means less ability to tolerate the pain of being forsaken or abandoned.

So ghosting is, by and large, not a great way to treat people you respect. It’s passive-aggressive, it’s self-protective at the expense of other people’s feelings, and it’s hard to stop: People who are ghosted become more likely to do the same to someone else. If you don’t like the experience, perhaps you should try to counter this trend and to work against a disposable, low-investment dating culture. There’s nothing easy about explaining to someone why you aren’t interested in them romantically, but even a brief explanation is much, much better than none at all. Closing a relationship openly is good for you, too: Disclosing your feelings can lower your blood pressure and reduce your subjective experience of stress. “I had a fun time,” you might say, “but I don’t think this is going to go in a romantic direction for me.” Or “I don’t think we’re really right for each other, although it’s been good to get to know you this week.” Even that much can help the other person close your chapter and move on. (Be careful about saying you’re sorry, unless you believe you have done something wrong; otherwise, “sorry” strikes a false note, or may even prolong someone’s emotional connection with you.)

And if you are hurting from having been ghosted? Remember that the message you’ve received is more about the other person than it is about you. Someone who ghosts you is declaring that they aren’t ready to treat you like an adult or to be honest about their feelings in anything approaching a delicate situation. It’s a clear sign that they are relying on primitive coping mechanisms — like avoidance and denial — and is not able to have a mature relationship with you at this time. Don’t bother reaching out to them again once you’ve gotten this message, either; if you believe the anecdotal evidence, asking people why they’ve ghosted you may even cause them to ghost you again. If your self-esteem has been damaged by the way someone else ended a relationship, don’t sacrifice any more of it by trying to communicate with someone who cannot do so in a mature way. You’ll do better to spend your time with courteous, kind people, and your ghoster has just identified himself, or herself, as someone who is neither.


Hosie, R. (2018, August).  I tracked down all the men who’ve ghosted me and this is what happened.  Retrieved from

Kim, J.  (2015, July).  The strange psychology of ghosting.  Retrieved from

Leary, M. R.,Haupt, A. L., Strausser, K. S., & Chokel, J. T. 1998. Calibrating the sociometer: The relationship between interpersonal appraisals and state self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, p.1290-1299.

Popescu, A. (2019, January).  Why people ghost and how to get over it.  Retrieved from

Priebe, H. (2019, February).  Why good people ghost: How our current dating culture necessitates dishonesty.  Retrieved from

Samakow, J.  (2017, December).  Ghosting: The 21st-century dating problem everyone talks about, but no one knows how to deal with.  Retrieved from

Vilhauer, J. (2015, November).  This is why ghosting hurts so much. Retrieved from

Williams, C., Richardson, D. Hammock, G., Janit, S. 2012. Perceptions of physical and psychological aggression in close relationships: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, (6), p. 489–494.


Loren Soeiro, Ph.D., ABPP, is a psychologist in private practice in New York City, specializing in helping people find success, fulfillment, and peace in their relationships and their work.

Nir Eyal says distraction doesn’t start with technology—it starts with us

Nir Eyal spent the best part of a decade working in the depths of the technology industry, watching as designers at tech giants subtly tweaked their products in order to manipulate the psychology of their users and modify their behavior.

Source: Nir Eyal says distraction doesn’t start with technology—it starts with us


We use these devices as psychological pacifiers as we are looking for an escape from uncomfortable sensations. And if we don’t deal with that fact, we will always find distraction somewhere.

We can blame the proximal causes like technology all day long, but if we fail to realize we are doing things against our better interest because they are helping us escape from discomfort, we will always be distracted by one thing or another.

Cal Newport on finding focus in the age of distraction

Source: Cal Newport on finding focus in the age of distraction


In knowledge work, we don’t quite have the right management structures in place so there’s an implicit reward for the shallow because it’s visible.

Once people started looking at [social media] critically, it was like the floodgates opened.

Everyone has read the same article about turning off notifications. Everyone has read the same article about doing a digital Shabbat once a week and it doesn’t seem to be working.