Have you ever misremembered an event, while being totally certain it actually happened? Most people have experienced the unreliability of human memory. As it turns out, false memories are very easy to generate. Scientists at the Riken–MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have created false memories in mice using a procedure they say would also work for humans.

False memories are very easy to generate

The scientists placed mice in an environment and kept track of where the memory of that place was being stored. Then they placed the mice in a second environment and gave them an electric shock while stimulating the memory of the first place. When reintroduced to the first environment, the mice froze as if they remembered being shocked there when in fact they hadn't.

Memory formation is the same in mice and humans, which made the researchers wonder why the brain is built to form false memories so easily. There's no clear answer, but the prevailing theory is that it has to do with human creativity. The ability to imagine hypothetical events in great detail has served humankind well, lead researcher Susumu Tonegawa told The New York Times, but it could also be the reason why human memory is not always grounded in reality.