Sunday, January 10, 2010

Manufactured Memories

Notes Paul Kennedy at The Defense Rests:
According to this article in the new issue of Scientific American, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, were able to manufacture memories for 25% of the subjects in a memory study. The ability to "create" memories of events that never took place places further doubt about the reliability of identification testimony by eyewitnesses.
The implications for the justice system of this observation are quite significant, not just in the area of eyewitness testimony but also regarding false confessions.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

You can't believe a witness.

Anonymous said...

Excellent observation. Everyone is a liar and out to get you. (Meds please!)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why would you call witnesses "liars", 11:55 and 11:48? The issue is almost always mistakes, not malice. Frequently the erroneous witness is the victim: What good does it do for you to blame them?

Perhaps you need to educate yourselves a bit about what percentage of eyewitnesses make honest errors in their testimony.

Anonymous said...

Considering crimes are often traumatizing for victims and witnesses, it's not surprising that memories are faulty. I don't blame malice. I blame generally faulty human observation and memory combined with an emotional need to "make sense" of a traumatic event by holding someone accountable and attempting to move on with one's life.

It doesn't help when a witness or victim is trying to identify someone of another race. Studies consistently show that facial recognition is often flawed in these situations.

Anonymous said...

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine are able to do all sorts of amazing things in their laboratories. You said they were able to create false memories. Scientists can create all sorts of conditions but in the real world you don't have a team of scientists trying to see if they can get you to create false memories.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, 6:13, in the real world you do have police spinning out hypothetical scenarios during interrogation that implicate a suspect and trying to get them to cop to it. That's how implanted memories are relevant to the false confession problem, in particular. Also, witnesses' memories can be influenced by police giving them information about the investigation, a suspect, their suspicions about motive, etc.. Memory is fungible, is the main point, and not just in the lab.

Anonymous said...

What's your point?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What's my point? 6:13 said "in the real world you don't have a team of scientists trying to see if they can get you to create false memories." I only pointed out that in "the real world" it's cops, not scientists, engaging in tactics that may instill false memories.

Anonymous said...

Right. Criminal never, ever lie. It's the police lying, putting all those nasty, criminal thoughts in their minds.

And I had hoped Santa would bring you some common sense.

Anonymous said...

"Right. Criminal never, ever lie. It's the police lying, putting all those nasty, criminal thoughts in their minds."

Unfortunately, too often there isn't much difference between the criminals and the cops. Neither can be trusted.

Anonymous said...

I do not think you can so easily discount the lack of external validity of these types of experiments. Again I am not saying that there are not problems with memory, but I don't think that false memory creation of events which may or may not have occurred at age 4 or 6 are as relevant to the issue of memory for real life events which have occurred in the far less distant past as this article and researchers say. there are lots of reasons that eye witness testimony is good. Remember, we won't believe it until we see it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:01, there are lots of reasons eyewitness testimony may be flawed, too - especially when the witness had not previously known the person they're identifying. See e.g., here and here for partial explanations why.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Right. Criminal never, ever lie. It's the police lying"

Nobody said that, 7:22, so I feel no need to defend a BS position no one has taken. Yours are not serious comments.

There's a growing body of research on false confessions that shows false memories can indeed be instilled during the interrogation process - not in every or even in most instances, but often enough to be an issue. Richard Leo's recent book on the subject catalogued much of that research, if you're actually interested in evidence-based conclusions instead of just trolling.

Old Salty said...

Scott you make the accurate observation that people make honest mistakes in giving eyewitness testimony, then you make a statement about the cops misleading witnesses into their erroneous testimony. Your bias is showing.

You do a tremendous amount of work on bringing up issues on this site, and I like a lot of what you say, but you do seem to have a bias against the cops.

Old Salty said...

Most general psychology classes do a demonstration with the students, testing their ability to observe and report by doing an unannounced, staged presentation in the class room, then asking the students to report significant events that occurred. They usually fail miserably, including, (and maybe especially) in their descriptions of the actors.

I now have the benefit of extemely good video surveillance which allows me to review incidents in institutions where I work. I can attest first hand to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, based on what can be seen clearly on the video footage. In fact, rarely does eyewitness testimony match the video.

I also have the advantage over the witnesses in that I can play back the video and watch it again, even in slow motion and frame by frame. Sometimes it takes that to determine what really happened.

I point this out to show that there can be multiple reasons, besides dishonesty or misleading by investigators, why eye-witness testimony may be inaccurate.

Soronel Haetir said...

Grits,

Unfortunately you are quite wrong when you say this has implications for our court system. It should have such implications but won't because the courts will continue to ignore it in almost every instance. Just as they'll ignore the NSF forensic science report.

Oh, they'll talk about it; but when it comes to actual trials and plea bargains and charging decisions faults in the evidence don't matter that much if they can be glossed over.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Salty, it's not a bias against cops to say that people give false confessions. They do. In the Yogurt Shop murder case there were more than 50 false confessions. Research shows that happens for several reasons. One is that the cops during interrogations spin out scenarios and try to get the D to cop to it. Sometimes (in the case of the Yogurt Shop murders after many hours of questioning), suspects may pick up fact-bites about the case from things the cop told them and inadvertently add them to their false confession. See the Leo book mentioned above.

You mischaracterize my view by saying I think the police are "misleading" people into confessions, though it's true police are allowed to lie to suspects about evidence during interrogations and that contributes to the problem. Instead, it's a function of flawed interrogation techniques that rely on an accusatory instead of information gathering focus. Cops are trained to pressure suspects to confess during interrogations, and sometimes that pressure is applied to the wrong person. If you don't think that ever happens, you're both being naive and ignoring research on the sources of false confessions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, it has implications, whether the courts recognize them or not. Reality exists independently of self serving positions taken by those in charge.

Anonymous said...

Well, the bottom line is that error occurs and as sad as it is - it usually rests on the backs of the innocent and they are incarcerated. Simply, because someone says "yes, that is without a doubt the person...." doesn't equate to correct. There are always situations that will urge one side of the justice system to inevitably have error and its error that pulls someone away from friends, family and the corrupt society in which it was birthed. However, calling them liars is a little much. It is also given that the system is broken and yet nothing is being done about it. It serves the people that desire it to remain broken - the legislature. It gives them a reason to hold meetings, to travel and to charge things to their corporate card. The bottom line - their are victims in the justice system unilaterally and horizontially - now the trick - how do we fix it.

Anonymous said...

There isn't much difference between the criminals and the cops. Neither can be trusted.

JWT (ConchonInfo Blogger) said...

A more detailed explanation of the research and the process involved is available as a video on Fora.TV
Whats the matter with memory. Surprisingly easy and simple methods were used.

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