A good deal of research has been done on false confessions, most of it showing that a surprising number of people will confess to crimes they have not committed, especially if the interrogator is skilled, manipulative, and demanding.
A new study by Julia Shaw shows that false confessions may be even easier to elicit than that. Shaw says of the study:
Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories. (Source)
Shaw also says that “…complex false memories exist, and… ‘normal’ individuals can be led to generate them quite easily.” She recommends better police interview techniques to prevent the problem.
I would contend that the problem of false memories, false confessions, and false interpretations is much more widespread than is generally believed. In a very deep and real sense, any memory or interpretation of our own or others’ behavior, feelings, or thoughts is liable to be false or so slanted it cannot be fundamentally true.
And that means that very large and complex parts of our lives are filled with errors about ourselves and others. We function as if in a dream whose very solidity is also dreamlike.
In most cases, there is little or nothing we can do about this except rely on established norms of behavior, whatever they are. In some cases, two people can do FIML practice or something similar and thereby relieve themselves of most of this problem.
When the Buddha said, “all conditioned things are like dreams, like illusions,” I really think he meant something like the above.
Humans are very susceptible to suggestion and the forming of false interpretations. Rather than experience the rich complexity and ambiguity of life, we tend to form false and narrow interpretations about it instead. Whole cultures and entire psychologies are built on top this basic flaw.