I could have sworn*

False memories are a problem, especially in criminal trials.  False memories can be created intentionally or through poor interview techniques (which I consider sort-of-intentional), and unintentionally because that is how the human brain can work.  To quote Prof. Loftus:

We all have memories that are malleable and susceptible to being contaminated or supplemented in some way.

Prof. Elizabeth Loftus has been a leading investigator in the phenomena of false memory.

Again she has said, and this is relevant to criminal trials:

I looked at what happens when people are questioned about their experiences. I would ultimately see those questions as a means by which the memories got contaminated.

A most interesting point comes at the end of her comments:

My work has made me tolerant of memory mistakes by family and friends. You don’t have to call them lies. I think we could be generous and say maybe this is a false memory.

Correct.  I think this is correct and I think it leads to an interesting way to look at witness allegations and testimony, especially in sexual assault cases – for both sides.

The Recipe: A cookbook for memories of sexual abuse.  Also in Slate.


*  This is the title of a piece in Slate, of an article in New Scientist, written by Alison George.

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