It’s typically well-known in the field of psychology that certain interviewing techniques can facilitate the implementation of false memories. This has been demonstrated powerfully by the work of Loftus and Palmer. And since their research, new interviewing techniques have been developed such as the cognitive interview which enables an eyewitness to be as open as possible without leading them to any particular conclusion.
But I came across an interesting article (Gurney, 2016) highlighted in ‘the Conversation’ which seems to suggest that verbal communication is not the only path along which the implementation of false memories can occur.
Gurney’s research involved the following methodology:
Participants were shown a short video of a man entering an office and stealing a phone. After asking a few questions that were not important to the overall study, the interviewer would make a brief gesture like stroking the chin as if thinking or pinching his finger.
The participants in the group where the interviewer stroked his chin reported a higher incidence of remembering that the man in the video had stubble or a beard. And those in the group where the interviewer pinched his finger, reported seeing a wedding ring on the individual in the video.
This original study has now been replicated with a variety of individuals from psychology students in the original study to Lawyers. Gestures tend to be not consciously recognised and thus represent a more pernicious form of false memory implementation.
The author concludes the article by raising an interesting point:
“There may be times when we’ve been influenced by someone’s hand gestures, and without even knowing it. Because of this, we should be aware of the power of nonverbal suggestion and how susceptible we can be to its effects.”