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.