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How Accurate is eyewitness memory? Part 2

Posted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:31 am
by brian
June 3, 2010: This is an extension of prior topic How Accurate is eyewitness memory. Please see that other topic. We start a part 2 to keep the responses manageable.
In the May 2010 Smithsonian magazine is an article by Greg Miller Making Memories-Does your memory play tricks on you? New research may explain why.
An interesting article which includes reference to the classic experiment by Elizabeth Loftus related to witnesses to a staged car crash in which she found the eyewitnesses could be easily led to misremember crucial details. For the full 1974 report see
Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction : An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory by ELIZABETH F. LOFTUASN D JOHN C. PALMER, University of Washington

Re: How Accurate is eyewitness memory? Part 2

Posted: Tue Jun 08, 2010 4:44 pm
by brian
Some additional inforation on the memory article
On the Loftus study:
  • "In a classic 1978 study led by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist then at the University of Washington, researchers showed college students a series of color photographs depicting an accident in which a red Datsun car knocks down a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The students answered various questions, some of which were intentionally misleading. For instance, even though the photographs had shown the Datsun at a stop sign, the researchers asked some of the students, “Did another car pass the red Datsun while it was stopped at the yield sign?”
    Later the researchers asked all the students what they had seen—a stop sign or yield sign? Students who’d been asked a misleading question were more likely to give an incorrect answer than the other students.
    To Nader and his colleagues, the experiment supports the idea that a memory is re-formed in the process of calling it up. “From our perspective, this looks a lot like memory reconsolidation,” says Oliver Hardt, a postdoctoral researcher in Nader’s lab."
And some concluding remarks from the article:
  • "Of course, there is the even bigger question: why are memories so unreliable? After all, if they were less subject to change we wouldn’t suffer the embarrassment of misremembering the details of an important conversation or a first date.
    Then again, editing might be another way to learn from experience. If fond memories of an early love weren’t tempered by the knowledge of a disastrous breakup, or if recollections of difficult times weren’t offset by knowledge that things worked out in the end, we might not reap the benefits of these hard-earned life lessons. Perhaps it’s better if we can rewrite our memories every time we recall them. Nader suggests that reconsolidation may be the brain’s mechanism for recasting old memories in the light of everything that has happened since. In other words, it just might be what keeps us from living in the past.
Be sure to see the Smithsonian magazine article by Greg Miller Making Memories-Does your memory play tricks on you? New research may explain why

Re: How Accurate is eyewitness memory? Part 2

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 11:18 am
by brian
Aug 13, 2011: in a related article from The Economist: Silence is golden: People have a strange and worrying tendency to admit to things they have not, in fact, done
  • SINCE 1992 the Innocence Project, an American legal charity, has used DNA evidence to help exonerate 271 people who were wrongly convicted of crimes, sometimes after they had served dozens of years in prison. But a mystery has emerged from the case reports. Despite being innocent, around a quarter of these people had confessed or pleaded guilty to the offences of which they were accused.

    It seems hard to imagine that anyone of sound mind would take the blame for something he did not do. But several researchers have found it surprisingly easy to make people fess up to invented misdemeanours. Admittedly these confessions are taking place in a laboratory rather than an interrogation room, so the stakes might not appear that high to the confessor. On the other hand, the pressures that can be brought to bear in a police station are much stronger than those in a lab. The upshot is that it seems worryingly simple to extract a false confession from someone—which he might find hard subsequently to retract.
see the full article: Silence is golden