Deepfake videos prompt false memories of films, study shows

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Deepfake clips remaking movie scenes prompted people to falsely remember the films – but no more so than a fake text description did.

Nearly half of participants who were shown deepfakes of fictitious movie remakes remembered them as real, according to a recent study.

Deepfakes are digitally altered videos that can change a person’s voice or face with that of another person.

There are many concerns that these convincing fake videos can be used to spread misinformation.

A team of researchers decided to focus on how deepfakes can impact a crucial component of the human brain: memory.

The team, led by Gillian Murphy at University College Cork in Ireland, surveyed more than 400 people after showing them deepfake clips of movies with different actors. One such fake clip was of Will Smith starring as Neo in The Matrix instead of Keanu Reeves who actually starred in the film.

The study showed that around 49% of the participants believed the false remake was real, with many of them “remembering the fake remake as better than the original film”.

“Though our findings suggest that deepfake technology is not uniquely placed to distort movie memories, our qualitative data suggested most participants were uncomfortable with deepfake recasting,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the scientific journal PLOS this month.

“Common concerns were disrespecting artistic integrity, disrupting the shared social experience of films, and a discomfort at the control and options this technology would afford.”

So should we be worried that the proliferation of deepfakes will influence our memories?

Human memory is trickier than we think

Previous studies have demonstrated that there are many ways to implant false memories.

One of the pioneer researchers in the field is Elizabeth Loftus who conducted the “lost in the mall” experiment in which study participants were falsely told they had been lost in a shopping mall as a child.

The study showed that a quarter of the participants remembered the fake event – an experiment that Murphy herself replicated in 2022.

“Our memories for what we originally experienced can be distorted by post-event information,” she sums up. 

Her latest study highlighted that the results with the deepfake clips are not very different to the outcomes resulting from other methods such as providing a false simple text description.

“With regard to cinema, deepfakes may not have the powerful effect on misleading memory that some have suggested,” the study says.

“In our next study, we will be creating our own deepfakes related to politics and assessing any effects on voter memory and attitudes,” Murphy told Euronews Next.

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