Scientists at M.I.T. have managed to implant mice with false memories. They told one mouse that Sharon Stone was his wife and that he should dissolve his father's compa—oh wait, never mind. Seriously, though, the researchers say the experiment might actually help scientists understand more about eyewitness testimony and the intricacies of recollection.
According to a study published in the journal Science, M.I.T. researchers led by Dr. Susumu Tonegawa manipulated "memory engram–bearing cells in the hippocampus" in mice, making the poor helpless rodents believe they had received an electric shock when placed in a certain contained area, even though that never actually happened. "Thereafter, whenever the researchers put the mice in that chamber, the mice would freeze up in a typical mouse response to fear," Popular Science's Francie Diep explains.
Obviously, mice brains and human brains are way different. So we don't have to worry about M.I.T. smarties giving us false memories just yet. And, as these scientists insist, we already have our own self-created false memories, such as when people believe they were popular in high school.
What scientists are trying to figure out is how these false memories apply to the human experience, like, say, eyewitness testimonies of crimes. So far, they have found evidence that false memories can easily be mistaken for real ones, as Diep explains:
On the molecular level, false memories in mice look a lot like real ones.
"They are really similar in terms of underlying mechanisms," he [Tonegawa] says. "So it's not surprising in humans when some of them insist false memories are true."
That means that you were probably never all that cool in the 9th grade. It was all a false memory, see? Get over it.