We tend to believe our memories are accurate, but they are far from it. The Supreme Court is finally beginning to realize this, now we even may have A physiological marker for false memories. What we remember is a hodge-podge, a patchwork of images, stories, and bits and pieces from our past (what some researchers refer to as the constructive nature of memory). In this episode I describe some of the very interesting research showing how our memories can be manipulated in surprising ways. Learn why you loved asparagus as a kid (really you did, really).
Elizabeth Loftus and Eyewitness Testimony
Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has conducted numerous experiments regarding the fallibility of the human memory. She has found that human memory is far from exact. To the contrary, she believes that memory can be manipulated in many different ways.
What Causes our Memories to be False?
Stress associated with the traumatic event can be a factor. Introduction of wrong information to the eyewitness can then be processed, and events can be retold by that witness which unknowingly incorporate that misinformation. Depending on the jury’s perception of the eyewitness’s credibility, inaccurate statements can become fact in their minds and this can lead to wrongful convictions.
Resources on False Memories
- How shock affects memory: Powerful emotions and pain can skew our recollections of the past
- People Can Be Convinced They Committed a Crime That Never Happened
- Geraerts, E., Berstien, D.M., Merckelbach, H., Linders, D., Raymaekers, L. & Loftus, E.F. (2008). Lasting false beliefs and their behavioral consequences. Psychological Science, 19, 749-753.
- Interview with Elizabeth Loftus: I Could Have Sworn …
- Lanye, C., Morris, E.K., Bernstein, D.M., Wakefield, B.M. and Loftus, E.F. (2008). Asparagus, a love story: Healthier eating could be just a false memory away. Experimental Psychology, 55, 291-300.
- A great summary of the “automobile destruction” study can be found here: Loftus and Palmer (eyewitness testimony)
- Loftus, E.F. & Palmer, J.C. (1974) Reconstruction of auto-mobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 13, 585 -589
- Loftus, E.L. (1997). Creating false memories. Scientific American.
- In New Jersey, Rules Are Changed on Witness IDs
- Stadler, M.A., Hoediger, H.L. and McDermott, K.B. (1999). Norms for word lists that create false memories. Memory & Cognition, 27(3), 494-500.
- Related episode: Episode 102: How to Create an Online Experiment on Eyewitness Testimony Accuracy