Streams

False Memories

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Remember that time that President Obama shook hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Or what about when Joe Lieberman voted to impeach President Clinton? If you're nodding your head yes, you've got a false memory--neither of these things ever happened, but there is a reason you believe they did.

Slate's national affairs correspondent Will Saletan and experimental psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Loftus will join us to explain the science behind memory falsification and its connection to almost every aspect of our lives--law, advertising, even weight loss therapies.

"The Memory Doctor" is Will Saletan's eight part series on the subject of false memory on Slate.com.

Guests:

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Will Saletan

Comments [15]

Peter Tillers from Jersey City

It is politically incorrect today to express sympathy with priests or nuns who are falsely accused of child molestation or with Catholic organizations who are falsely accused of harboring, on some occasion, child molesters. However, allegedly repressed and recovered memories are being used against priests, nuns, and the Roman Catholic Church. There is very good reason to think that the fervor to eradicate sexual misconduct is again leading to the punishment of many innocent people and organizations, this time Roman Catholic. In a blog I describe one "interesting case" of this kind:
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Octgenarians normally lose memory rather than recover it
Octgenarians normally lose memory rather than recover it. But perhaps the prospect of $1,000,000 stimulated two octgenarians' brains and enabled these octogenarians to remember what happened to them more than 60 years ago. See Jeff Diamant, "Six decades later, 2 men accuse nuns of sex abuse," The Star-Ledger Online) (Oct. 3, 2009).
These two octgenarians say they recently recovered recollections of being sexually molested by nuns in the early 1940s. "Coffey, who like Fioretti lived at Sacred Heart from 1937 to 1943, said his memory of being sexually abused returned after he learned on television, in October 2004, that the Newark Archdiocese had settled with victims of sex abuse for $1 million without acknowledging wrongdoing." Id.
The amount of time during which these two plaintiffs' memories were allegedly repressed outstrips even the amount of time involved the case in Massachusetts, the case in which a plaintiff claimed that her memory had been repressed for some 47 years and then recovered it. See Time and Justice in Massachusetts, August 25, 2002.
I had hoped against hope that the "theory" of repressed and recovered memory had been so thoroughly debunked that not even the most entrepreneurial lawyers would venture to file complaints or petitions alleging that their clients had lost their memories for years and then, miraculously and fortuitously, had recovered them. Well, let's hope that New Jersey courts have enough common sense to reject these two claims of much-belated "recoveries" of suppressed memories.

&&&

I do not agree with every position Loftus takes and I do not sympathize with every party to a lawsuit that she has been aligned with. But I applaud Professor Loftus for caring unpopular victims of our legal process. Few of us seem to worry now about the conviction of the innocent.

Jun. 03 2010 02:49 PM
Peter Tillers

It is politically incorrect today to express sympathy with priests or nuns who are falsely accused of child molestation or with Catholic organizations who are falsely accused of harboring, on some occasion, child molesters. However, allegedly repressed and recovered memories are being used against priests, nuns, and the Roman Catholic Church. There is very good reason to think that the fervor to eradicate sexual misconduct is again leading to the punishment of many innocent people and organizations, this time Roman Catholic. In a blog I describe one "interesting case" of this kind:
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Octgenarians normally lose memory rather than recover it
Octgenarians normally lose memory rather than recover it. But perhaps the prospect of $1,000,000 stimulated two octgenarians' brains and enabled these octogenarians to remember what happened to them more than 60 years ago. See Jeff Diamant, "Six decades later, 2 men accuse nuns of sex abuse," The Star-Ledger Online) (Oct. 3, 2009).
These two octgenarians say they recently recovered recollections of being sexually molested by nuns in the early 1940s. "Coffey, who like Fioretti lived at Sacred Heart from 1937 to 1943, said his memory of being sexually abused returned after he learned on television, in October 2004, that the Newark Archdiocese had settled with victims of sex abuse for $1 million without acknowledging wrongdoing." Id.
The amount of time during which these two plaintiffs' memories were allegedly repressed outstrips even the amount of time involved the case in Massachusetts, the case in which a plaintiff claimed that her memory had been repressed for some 47 years and then recovered it. See Time and Justice in Massachusetts, August 25, 2002.
I had hoped against hope that the "theory" of repressed and recovered memory had been so thoroughly debunked that not even the most entrepreneurial lawyers would venture to file complaints or petitions alleging that their clients had lost their memories for years and then, miraculously and fortuitously, had recovered them. Well, let's hope that New Jersey courts have enough common sense to reject these two claims of much-belated "recoveries" of suppressed memories.

&&&

I do not agree with every position Loftus takes and I do not sympathize with every party to a lawsuit that she has been aligned with. But I applaud Professor Loftus for caring unpopular victims of our legal process. Few of us seem to worry now about the conviction of the innocent.

Jun. 03 2010 02:47 PM
Brigid from New York City

Why is Loftis so inarticulate when discussing the precise area of research that has been her professional focus for so many years? There is a suspicious absence of higher-order reasoning in Loftis'' remarks, as there is in the design of her experiments and her expressed reasoning about them on this show. Speaking of "one's own fallibility": Loftis' experiments, to the extent that they show anything, show that the question of "who controls [false memories]" is the operative one. Not surprisingly, mixing true elements such as actual photographs with deliberatly engineered falsehoods (doctoring the photographs) as Loftis did--causes people to believe and internalize lies you are feeding them in an extremely manipulative way. Is this really a surprise? However, it does *not* then follow that those who have an emotional and somatic memory of a traumatic event, although they may inaccurately recall, or become convinced of, certain assertions or assumptions about what happened to them, did *not* in fact undergo the core experiences that, as with every memory and every conviction, they encounter in the form of a mixture of truth and partial truth, of certainty and doubt. A mixture of truth and inaccuracy is what characterizes the stimulus used in the research (the doctored photos); a mixture of truth and inaccuracy characterizes *every* attempt to recall *anything* that happened to one personally. To try to use this obvious fact as grounds to argue that all or many or even some recovered memories in a high-stakes situation should therefore be dismissed is absurd. All that's needed is to acknowledge the complex nature of memory--and we don't need any "experimental" studies to prove that (unless we completely lack the ability to reason and to work with complex, nuanced concepts--always a liability, apparently).

Jun. 03 2010 12:49 PM
Elizabeth Loftus from University of California, Irvine

A listener asked about Hilary's memory of Bosnia. In 2008, when Hilary Clinton was running for the Presidency of the United States, she recalled a harrowing trip she had taken to Bosnia some 12 years earlier when she arrived under sniper fire. Her memories were quite vivid, and certainly detailed: “I remember landing under sniper fire…. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”
Her memory ran into trouble when the media began showing photographs of her actual arrival in Bosnia that day. These photos did not depict a hostile landing but rather a peaceful one; she walked from the helicopter with her daughter as they were greeted peacefully by schoolchildren. After thorough fact-checking, and interviews with celebrities who had joined the trip to entertain the troops, proved her memory was wrong, one commentator gave Hillary’s memory “Four Pinocchios,.” The memory was wrong in at least four ways: There was no “corkscrew” landing, nor was there any sniper fire. There was no canceled airport reception, only that greeting from the schoolchildren. And she was not the first wife of an American president to go into a war zone.
To invoke Pinocchio is to suggest that Hillary Clinton may have been deliberately lying when she told her earlier version. . But she had another explanation: “I made a mistake. I had a different memory. I made a mistake – that happens – that proves I’m human which for some people is a revelation.” After three decades of studying human memory, Hilary’s explanation makes perfect sense to me.

Jun. 03 2010 12:46 PM
Robert Plautz from New York, N.Y.

Could your guests comment on what would have provoked Hilary Clinton to claim to have ducked bullets in Bosnia.

Jun. 03 2010 12:38 PM
Maude from Park Slope

I'm curious what the guest thinks about hypnosis. For example, I can't remember vast periods of my childhood, for which therapists have recommended hypnosis, which I am wary of.

Jun. 03 2010 12:36 PM
Tony from Forest Hills

Does people with Asperger Syndrome has lower chance of false memory?

Jun. 03 2010 12:34 PM
Maya from Brooklyn, NY

I remember an interview with JFK Jr where he said he had no memory of his father's funeral. He said something like, "I only think I do because of that iconic picture....it's very easy to think I remember saluting his coffin as it went by but I don't...I really don't..."

Jun. 03 2010 12:34 PM
Donovan from BKLYN

Some of the methods of implanting false memories remind me of Fox News "reporting"

Jun. 03 2010 12:29 PM
Caitlin

Does Dr. Loftus believe repressed memories are entirely bunk, or are there some cases (most likely ones that don't involve satanic cults) where they could be real?

Jun. 03 2010 12:27 PM
Aanne from bkNY

"False memories" a bunch-o-bull! She is not explaining anything because there is no logical reason for it.

Jun. 03 2010 12:26 PM
Phil Henshaw from Wash Hts

One of the main ways for people to develop "false memories" is through cultural reinforcement of heresay, as we base out information on information, and the approval of our friends and peers, we develop sometimes great bubbles of misinformation. That was the "physical process" behind the housing bubble, for example, a kind of shared fantasy that became a culture of misinformation.

www.synapse9.com/issues/WanderingMinds.htm

Jun. 03 2010 12:19 PM
Aanne from bkNY

Very dangerous behaviour. I know two family members who claimed repressed memories of abuse AFTER the person(s) were deceased.

Jun. 03 2010 12:19 PM
Nu On from New York

Did you know that may of the key founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation were PRECISELY the people who had been accused of psychological abuse by victims of CIA/Army mind control and LSD experiments?
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Originally, this foundation was literally a public relations operation on the part of American intelligence services designed to manipulate public opinion and discredit soldiers and civilians, especially those who were victims of CIA and Army LSD experiments.
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This information is readily available and easy to confirm.

Jun. 03 2010 12:17 PM
Thomas

I had a friend who reviewed up to 3 films a day for years. Sometimes in conversation, they would actually confuse things that would happen in films with things that happened in their real life. It was almost fun to figure out what film they were "living."

Jun. 03 2010 12:15 PM

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