A lecture by Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology and Professor of Law and Cognitive Science at University of California, Irvine.
In this lecture, Loftus shows us that people can be led to develop rich false memories for events that never happened. False memories look very much like true ones: they can be confidently told, detailed, and expressed with emotion.
From Radcliffe Magazine, an excerpt from an article by Susan Seligson:
Elizabeth Loftus can make people “remember” that eggs once made them sick or that as children they were briefly lost in a mall, though both “memories” are false.
A high-profile forensic psychologist and memory researcher, Loftus does this not as a parlor trick, although she’s witty and entertaining—and clearly savors toppling the assumptions of TED audiences and, once, 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl. For decades, Loftus has led one of the sides in what has been dubbed “the memory wars.”
“I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” says the Los Angeles native, now a distinguished professor of social ecology and a professor of law and cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Her UC website playfully describes Loftus as “an expert on nothing.” That’s because her groundbreaking studies of false memories, involving thousands of subjects, drive home the point that human memory is unreliable at best, and malleable enough to wreck the lives of the unjustly accused.
Loftus visited the Radcliffe Institute at the end of April to speak about her 40 years of work in the memory field, which have won her the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award. Loftus, who has a PhD from Stanford, has testified in more than 250 legal cases and consulted on many others, including those of Michael Jackson, Oliver North, O.J. Simpson, and Martha Stewart. Despite often unsparing attacks from the defense (“I often joke that I deserve combat pay,” she says), Loftus can shatter, with sound science, the record/playback notion of how we remember and how memories become narratives. “Memory actually works more like a Wikipedia page,” says Loftus. “You can go into your page and change things. But so can other people.”