Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Constructing rich false memories of committing crime.

Yet another study, from Shaw and Porter, demonstrating how flawed our memory systems can be. This sort of experiment explains in part the continuing parade of individuals, imprisoned on the basis of false witness memories reported after suggestive interviews with zealous prosecutors, who are being released on the basis of evidence suppressed or ignored in their trial.
Memory researchers long have speculated that certain tactics may lead people to recall crimes that never occurred, and thus could potentially lead to false confessions. This is the first study to provide evidence suggesting that full episodic false memories of committing crime can be generated in a controlled experimental setting. With suggestive memory-retrieval techniques, participants were induced to generate criminal and noncriminal emotional false memories, and we compared these false memories with true memories of emotional events. After three interviews, 70% of participants were classified as having false memories of committing a crime (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) that led to police contact in early adolescence and volunteered a detailed false account. These reported false memories of crime were similar to false memories of noncriminal events and to true memory accounts, having the same kinds of complex descriptive and multisensory components. It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.

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