Issue of False Memories in Legal System

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“Memory is born every day, springing from the past, and set against it”, a statement that the Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano once made (Galeano & Belfrage, 1991). Memories are flexible, unsettled and can be revised whenever they are retrieved (Howe & Knott, 2015). Recall of the experiences that are stored in our memory can be influenced during all different memory stages (Howe & Knott, 2015). Error has the potential to unconsciously sneak into our memory by means of active manipulation during encoding, integration with other information during memory storage, and reconstruction during retrieval (Howe & Knott, 2015).

The adjustment of memories can happen either spontaneously in an individual, or can arise via external influence, such as suggestion by another person (Howe & Knott, 2015). The alteration of memories through external sources may lead to meaningful, but false memories of what occurred, often without the person knowing (Shaw & Porter, 2015). The adjustment of memories happens to everyone in daily life and is usually harmless (Loftus, 2003). However, the correctness of memories can be of crucial importance, for example in legally relevant situations where the distortion of memory can have terrible consequences (Mazzoni, 2002).

From the 1970s onwards, more and more theorists have started stressing the reconstructive nature of memory (Wright & Loftus, 1998). Much subsequent work has challenged the long-standing assumption of memory as reliable and several studies have shown that suggestive influence by another person, such as leading questions in a police interrogation, is highly associated with the formation of false memories (Porter & Baker, 2015). These false memories involve the remembrance of events or details that we did not experience (Howe, Candel, Otgaar, Malone, & Wimmer, 2010). Fundamental work in this area by Elizabeth Loftus demonstrated that exposure to misinformation after an event commonly leads to the consolidation of distorted details in memories (Porter & Baker, 2015).

Many subsequent studies confirmed the findings by Loftus and showed that post-event reconstructive processes can lead to memory deformation in many legally relevant situations, leading to reports of false details of a crime or even false confessions of committing a crime (Porter & Baker, 2015). It can be the case that these inaccurate memories, are found in cases of confabulation (also called honest lying Riba et al., 2015). Confessions based on confabulation are called internalized/persuaded false confessions (Kassin, 2008, 2015). Due to distrust in their own memory, these victims become vulnerable to external manipulation, e.g, suggestive interrogation techniques. Exposure to highly misleading and suggestive claims can lead victims to question their own innocence, which can result in the confabulation of (false) memories. The victims believe that their memories are true and thus that they committed the crime (Kassin, 2008, 2015). This has important implications for the legal system (Loftus, 2003).

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Issue of False Memories in Legal System. (2021, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/issue-of-false-memories-in-legal-system/

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