Hey do you believe in reincarnation? Remember that money you owe me?!

Actually, more appropriately,
"Hey do you believe in past lives, aliens or CIA mind control?"
"Do get the feeling that you owe someone money?"
"Yeah, you owe me some money"

i-fb4f81629789ba67913f23ff6755929a-r is for reincarnation jared hindman.jpgThere's an interesting article in the March issue of Consciousness and Cognition about the link between false memories and the totally out there belief of reincarnation.

Here's the basic design and results of the study from Live Science/MSNBC

Subjects were asked to read aloud a list of 40 non-famous names, and then, after a two-hour wait, told that they were going to see a list consisting of three types of names: non-famous names they had already seen (from the earlier list), famous names, and names of non-famous people that they had not previously seen. Their task was to identify which names were famous.

The researchers found that, compared to control subjects who dismissed the idea of reincarnation, past-life believers were almost twice as likely to misidentify names. In particular, their tendency was to wrongly identify as famous the non-famous names they had seen in the first task. This kind of error, called a source-monitoring error, indicates that a person has difficulty recognizing where a memory came from.

I'm assuming that people who believe they have had past lives have memories which can't be attributed to any source. The mind in turn tries to make sense of the memory - and not surprisingly when confusion arises in the brain it just makes up a bunch of stuff in order to assign the memory to some source or other - in this case a past life. Gotta love heuristics! Other options of course include Alien Abduction, God or the CIA.

I'm not so sure I buy this following statement though: "We suspect that this might be kind of a psychological buffering mechanism against the fear of death." I doubt the fear of death causes the source memory errors- it just lets the brain know what wacky source to give to the errors.


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I think that's a really neat study! I also like the authors' explanation. I think that fear of death can cause a desire to believe in something like reincarnation (or heaven...sorry religious people.) Then, the people who have source-monitoring problems are more likely to keep that reincarnation belief because they feel as though they have evidence (misplaced memories) for it. So I think it's a combination of unrelated factors. I agree that fear of death itself would not cause the source monitoring problem, though.

By Katherine Moore (not verified) on 06 Apr 2007 #permalink

Some people are just so frontal....

Maybe those names seemed familiar to them because they were names of people they actually knew in their past lives. Ha!

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 07 Apr 2007 #permalink

i've got lots of memories i'm unsure of the source of. i thought everybody attributed them to vaguely remembered dreams, like i always have...?

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 10 Apr 2007 #permalink

I have lots of disconnected memories myself, but at this point I just accept that. Plenty of explanations available... between learning disability, misconceived medication for same, mood disorders and the self-medication for that... well, I was in my thirties before I had enough confidence in my memories to stand up for my own experiences.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 11 Apr 2007 #permalink

um, was there any experimental control for the effects of all the weed-smoking the reincarnation people were probably doing? Could habitual marijuana use account for the source-monitoring errors? No joke!