About one-third of the people who were exposed to a fake print advertisement that described a visit to Disneyland and how they met and shook hands with Bugs Bunny later said they remembered or knew the event happened to them.
The scenario described in the ad never occurred because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Bros. cartoon character and wouldn't be featured in any Walt Disney Co. property, according to University of Washington memory researchers Jacquie Pickrell and Elizabeth Loftus. Pickrell will make two presentations on the topic at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society (APS) on Sunday (June 17) in Toronto and at a satellite session of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition in Kingston, Ontario, on Wednesday.
"The frightening thing about this study is that it suggests how easily a false memory can be created," said Pickrell, UW psychology doctoral student.
"It's not only people who go to a therapist who might implant a false memory or those who witness an accident and whose memory can be distorted who can have a false memory. Memory is very vulnerable and malleable. People are not always aware of the choices they make. This study shows the power of subtle association changes on memory."
The research is a follow-up to an unpublished study by Loftus, a UW psychology professor who is being honored by the APS this week with its William James Fellow Award for psychological research; Kathryn Braun, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School; and Rhiannon Ellis, a former UW undergraduate who is now a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. In the original study, 16 percent of the people exposed to a Disneyland ad featuring Bugs Bunny later thought they had seen and met the cartoon rabbit.