A false memory is a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event and yes, it is a real thing. Such memories may be entirely false and imaginary. In other cases, they may contain elements of fact that have been distorted by interfering information or other memory distortions.
People often think of memory as something like a video recorder, accurately documenting and storing everything that happens with perfect accuracy and clarity. In reality, memory is very prone to fallacy. People can feel completely confident that their memory is accurate, but this confidence is no guarantee that a particular memory is correct. Examples of this phenomenon can range from the fairly mundane, such as incorrectly recalling that you locked the front door, to the much more serious, such as falsely remembering details of an accident you witnessed.
False memory differs from simple memory errors. While we are all prone to memory fallibility false memory is more than a simple mistake; it involves a level of certitude in the validity of the memory.
Everyone experiences memory failures from time to time, false memories are unique in that they represent a distinct recollection of something that did not actually happen. It is not about forgetting or mixing up details of things that we experienced; it is about remembering things that we never experienced in the first place.
Factors that can influence false memory include misinformation and misattribution of the original source of the information. Existing knowledge and other memories can also interfere with the formation of a new memory, causing the recollection of an event to be mistaken or entirely false.
Over time, memories become distorted and begin to change. In some cases, the original memory may be changed in order to incorporate new information or experiences.
While it might be difficult for many people to believe, everyone has false memories. Our memories are generally not as reliable as we think and false memories can form quite easily, even among people who typically have very good memories.