In a crisis, beware the false memory phenomenon

When responding to a crisis event, PR pros must be careful to avoid mental mistakes. Here’s how to make sure your brain doesn’t play tricks on you.

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You might not know what you think you know.

In 2013, MIT scientists successfully implanted false memories in mice to better understand how faulty memories arise. Think court cases where witnesses mistakenly recall information about a crime that is inaccurate, and the accused are later exonerated with DNA evidence – but with vermin.

The premise of this experiment forms the basis of a provocative new novel I’ve been reading titled “Recursion” by Blake Crouch. The MIT experiment prompted Crouch to consider the implications of false memories spreading throughout the United States and the resulting effects: widespread confusion, instability and people beginning to question their own reality.

In an era dominated by fake news, manipulation and staggering polarization, one begins to question how vulnerability to false memories might affect public memory and perception.

This is an important question for brand managers to consider, particularly those weathering a crisis. More specifically, brands must ask how their messages to stakeholders impact brand perceptions and loyalty amid a sea of bombastic Twitter exchanges, hysterical punditry and sensationalism.

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