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retrospective falsification

D. H. Rawcliffe coined this term to refer to the process of telling a story that is factual to some extent, but which gets distorted and falsified over time by retelling it with embellishments. The embellishments may include speculations, conflating events that occurred at different times or in different places, and the incorporation of material without regard for accuracy or plausibility. The overriding force that drives the story is to find or invent details that fit with a desired outcome. The process can be conscious or unconscious. The original story gets remodeled with favorable points being emphasized and unfavorable ones being dropped. The distorted and false version becomes a memory and record of a remarkable tale. Examples of this process include stories of miraculous events, reconstructions of alleged psychic predictions, and the development of the belief that aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico.

The term is used in psychology to describe the process of creating false memories by selecting and reshaping incidents from the past to fit present needs. Retrospective falsification occurs in most, if not all, people and is generally an unconscious process. When it occurs consciously, as it often does in politics, it may be called by other names, such as "political historical revisionism."

See also confabulation, Our Lady of Watsonville, pious fraud, psychic detective, retroactive clairvoyance, and shoehorning.

further reading

Cameron, Norman and Joseph F. Rychlak. Personality Development and Psychopathology: A Dynamic Approach, 2nd edition  (Houghton Mifflin College,1985)

Rawcliffe, Donovan Hilton, Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult (New York: Dover Publications, 1959).

Last updated 14-Jan-2014

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