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Memories of Things Unseen Elizabeth F. Loftus University of California, Irvine ABSTRACT— New fndings reveal more about the malleability oF memory. Not only is it possible to change details oF memories For previously experienced events, but one can sometimes also plant entirely False memories into the minds oF unsuspecting individ- uals, even iF the events would be highly implausible or even impossible. ±alse memories might diFFer statistically From true ones, in terms oF certain characteristics such as confdence or vividness, but some False memories are held with a great degree oF confdence and expressed with much emotion. Moreover, False memories can have consequences For later thoughts and be- haviors, sometimes rather serious ones. KEYWORDS— memory; False memory; suggestibility Faulty memory has led to more than its share of heartbreak. The cases of individuals who have been released from prison after DNA evi- dence revealed their innocence make compelling examples. Larry Mayes of Indiana had the dubious distinction of being the l00th such person to be freed in the United States. He was convicted of raping a gas station cashier after the victim positively identi±ed him in court. Apparently it did not matter that she had failed to identify him in two earlier lineups and did so in court only after she was hypnotized by the police. Mayes spent 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Attorney Thomas Vanes had prosecuted Mayes, believing at the time that Mayes was guilty. But two decades later, after Vanes saw the result of old evidence being subjected to new DNA testing, he changed his mind. ‘‘He was right, and I was wrong,’’ wrote Vanes (2003), in a newspaper op-ed piece arguing for the DNA testing of another individual who was awaiting execution for an ugly robbery- murder of an elderly couple. For Vanes, it was a ‘‘sobering lesson.’’ The DNA exonerations have taught all of us a sobering lesson, namely, that faulty memory is the major cause of wrongful convictions. Concerns about justice are but one reason why the study of memory is so important. MEMORY DISTORTION: FROM CHANGING DETAILS TO PLANTING FALSE MEMORIES Pick up any textbook in the ±eld of memory or cognition, and you will invariably ±nd mention of faulty memory. That has been true for decades. But lately, the study of memory distortion has been thriving. In the 1970s through 1990s, hundreds of studies showed the power of new information to contaminate memory reports. Stop signs became yield signs, hammers turned into screwdrivers, and broken glass got ‘‘added’’ to memories for accidents. The inaccuracies in memory caused by erroneous information provided after the event became known as the ‘‘misinformation effect.’’ In the mid 1990s, memory investigators went further. It was one thing to change a detail in memory for a previously experienced event, but quite another thing to plant an entirely false memory into the mind. Using fairly strong suggestions, investigators succeeded in
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This note was uploaded on 12/21/2009 for the course PSYCHOLOGY 162 taught by Professor Burke during the Fall '09 term at Pomona College.

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