The Memory Factory

The Memory Factory is the title of the address delivered by Elizabeth Loftus at the Presidential Symposium of the 2013 Association for Psychological Science (APS) Convention. Research has revealed that 63% of the public believes that memory works like a video camera. Unfortunately, not only the public, but also the courts have believed this. Consequently, many have been convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony because jurors have an erroneous view of the accuracy of memory. Worse yet, parents have been jailed for the sexual abuse of their children as the result of false memories placed by their psychotherapist. The theoretical predilections of these psychotherapists was that repressed sexual abuse as children was the source of their clients’ current psychological problems. In the course of the therapy they unwittingly placed these false memories in their clients’ minds. Can you imagine a worse nightmare that having your child accuse you of sexual abuse that you know never happened? It is truly Kafkaesque! Well it happened many times, and parents, teachers, and childcare specialists were falsely accused, convicted and sent to jail. It was through the research of Elizabeth Loftus and her many painstaking court appearances that eventually overturned these convictions. I think it unlikely that there will be similar convictions in the future.

The reality is that memory is far from being like a video recorder and is highly malleable. Loftus work began simply by showing how modifications in the wording of a statement would induce biases that would induce false recall. Bear in mind that misleading or biasing statements are not needed. The accounts of different witnesses of a crime will vary radically. There is a very good National Geographic television special on memory that illustrates. Loftus also appears on that same program.

Loftus work advanced to the point where it was possible to plant rich false memories in people’s minds. They have been made to think that as children they were lost in a mall or park and later found. They will provide vivid accounts of things that never happened. False memories of having become sick in the past from eating different foods have resulted in people no longer liking these foods. Loftus has also been able to plant false memories of foods that they either did not like or were indifferent to and made people believe that these were foods they liked. Consequently, people started liking these foods. Examples of this were illustrated in a TV special featuring Alan Alda and Loftus.

False memories have also been created in individuals classified as being HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. So the best memories that have been found are still vulnerable!

Recent research has used fMRI to try to determine if there were any differences in true versus false memories. No differences were detected. People’s confidence in their memories provides no indication of their accuracy. People can be highly confident in memories that are patently false.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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