The Situationist

Elizabeth Loftus and the Situation of False Memories

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2009

From Chautauqua Institution, here’s a worthwhile video in which renowned social psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, discusses her remarkable research on human memory and the prevalence of false memories.  She also explains how her findings are relevant for everything from law to dieting.

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For related Situationist posts “Emotional Content of True and False Memories – Abstract,” “Mood & Memory,” “The Situation of Confabulation,” “Emotional Content of True and False Memories – Abstract,” “The Situation of Memory,” and “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).”

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One Response to “Elizabeth Loftus and the Situation of False Memories”

  1. Murphy8 said

    Study Questions: “What’s the Matter with Memory?”

    1. Dr. Loftus asks her audience to participate in an exercise involving an altered photo. What did the audience’s response show about altered photos? Is it easy to fool people with altered photos?

    2. Loftus says that false memories were planted in a quarter of the subject in her often-cited lost-in-a-shopping mall study. Should Loftus explain that family members helped create the “lost-in-a-mall” false memories which were based upon true shopping events and included true details? How does this study apply to what a therapist might do?

    3. The altered photo of a hot air balloon convinced some study participants they had ridden in a hot air balloon as a child. How does this study apply to what a therapist might do?

    4. Loftus’s research shows that telling people they got sick eating a dill pickle, a hard-boiled egg or strawberry ice cream may cause them to say they would be less likely to eat this item in the future. Do you think this approach would be effective as a weight loss method?

    5. Loftus describes a study that took place during an intensive, week-long military training in survival, evasion and resistance to interrogation. After a 30-minute interrogation, soldiers were shown a photo of a man who did NOT conduct the interrogation and asked what the man did when he conducted the interrogation. Afterwards, they were shown 9 photos of men who did not do the interrogation, including the photo they’d been shown. Loftus reported that 91% picked the photo they had been shown. Do you think the results would have been any different if the 9 photos had included a photo of the man who conducted the interrogation?

    6. List the similarities and/or differences, if any, between (1) Hilary Clinton’s 2008 campaign statement that she landed in Bosnia in 1996 “under sniper fire,” and (2) the statement of another politician, “Scooter” Libby,” in his 2007 trial that he lied to investigators in 2003 because he was “too preoccupied with sensitive national security issues to remember conversations he had about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.”

    7. Loftus does not cite the body of research suggesting that repressed/recalled memories have been corroborated. What problems, if any, could arise if a scientist fails to cite research that may contradict their hypothesis?

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