Memory is defined as the ability to retrieve and recover information about past events or knowledge. It is the process of recovering information and includes cognitive reconstruction. The brain attempts to extract and recall information that has already happened. (Medicinenet, 2016).

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus studies memory. More specifically; false memories. False memories are when people remember things that did not happen or remember them differently from how they really occurred (Talk, 2013). Her research has revealed that memory can be planted by asking leading questions. She has also identified that imagination and hypnosis techniques may alter memories. During imagination, people may create something that did not happen at all.

Loftus’s research involves planting memories in subjects. One study she referenced in her TED TALK details how she and her team planted false memories in military personnel. They created stressful, hostile and physically abusive environments and false fed the subjects on how the perpetrators looked. Perpetrator’s they had seen with their naked eye. She states that a quarter of the subjects falsely identified people that did not even resemble their attackers.

With a chuckle, she stated that some people may think that her research abuses subjects. I found her chuckle to be appalling. There isn’t anything funny about traumatizing people and causing unnecessary pain and stress. She seems to think, along with the ethics boards that permits this brand of research; that it is necessary for the greater good. They are wrong.

I agree that the research is needed; however I do not agree with her method. The plant of evil is not necessary to find good. The plant of horrific is not necessary to unearth light. Nothing justifies this. There is always a way to do something that serves all parties involved.

In Meyers (2012), we are provided an example of how researchers used photographs to plant fake experiences. The researches took a photograph of a hot air balloon ride and photo shopped it to include members of a family that did not participate in the hot air balloon experience. They then showed the family members that did not participate the photos that included them in it.  These family members began to recall the experience, providing great detail. They were not on the hot air balloon ride. It never happened.

This is a much safer approach that proves the same point as Loftus’s research. The drama, trauma and abuse she manufactures is unconscionable. People have enough legitimate misfortune in their lives. She does not need to create more.

I believe the results of this research is valuable and I do not understand why our judicial system and law enforcement community is continuing to rely on “eye witness” and“victim experiences” to the degree that it does. This is very disturbing information to be aware of considering it has been proven that people are falsely identified and people recall events that did not happen and put themselves in places there never were in.

I hope those who are fighting for criminal justice reform are making this data apart of the conversation. We can never fully know the full implications of false memories and memory planting but what we know is enough. Enough to make us know that criminal convictions need to weigh on forensic and scientific evidence and not on what people believe they saw…or even where they claim they were.

The Budding Professor

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