Monday, September 9, 2013

Elizabeth Loftus

From false-memory expert Elizabeth Loftus's Q & A with Alison George for New Scientist, reprinted in Slate:

G: You're known for debunking the idea of repressed memories. Why focus on them?

EL: In the 1990s we began to see these recovered-memory cases. In the first big one, a man called George Franklin was on trial. His daughter claimed she had witnessed her father kill her best friend when she was 8 years old—but had only remembered this 20 years later. And that she had been raped by him and repressed that memory too. Franklin was convicted of the murder, and that started this repressed-memory ball rolling through the legal system. We began to see hundreds of cases where people were accusing others based on claims of repressed memory. That's what first got me interested.

AG: How did you study the process of creating false memories?

EL: We needed a different paradigm for studying these types of recollections. I developed a method for creating "rich false memories" by using strong suggestion. The first such memory was about getting lost in a shopping mall as a child

AG: How susceptible are people to having these types of memories implanted?

EL: Depending on the study, you might get as many as 50 percent of people falling for the suggestion and developing a complete or partial false memory.

AG: Do you think it's not possible to repress memories of traumatic events?

EL: It is possible not to think about something for a long time, even something unpleasant that happened to you. But what's been claimed in these repressed-memory cases is something, by definition, that's too extreme to be explained by ordinary forgetting and remembering. They're saying that in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue