Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Our changeable memories: legal and practical implications

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 May 2003

Abstract

The malleability of memory is becoming increasingly clear. Many influences can cause memories to change or even be created anew, including our imaginations and the leading questions or different recollections of others. The knowledge that we cannot rely on our memories, however compelling they might be, leads to questions about the validity of criminal convictions that are based largely on the testimony of victims or witnesses. Our scientific understanding of memory should be used to help the legal system to navigate this minefield.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: An example of a composite photograph of a hot-air balloon flight.

References

  1. 1

    Duke, L. M., Seltzer, B., Seltzer, J. E. & Vasterling, J. J. Cognitive components of deficit awareness in Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychology 16, 359–369 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Galeano, E. H. translated by Belfrage, C. (with Schafer, M.) in The Book of Embraces 124–125 (Norton & Co., New York, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Connors, E., Lundregan, T., Miller, N. & McEwan, T. Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial (National Institute of Justice, Alexandria, Virginia, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Huff, C. R. What can we learn from other nations about the problem of wrongful conviction? Judicature 86, 91–97 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Kennedy, H. Beltway sniper notches no. 8. Kills man gassing car in Va., dodges dragnet. NY Daily News [online], (cited 12 October 2002), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime_file/story/26305p-24892c.html (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Schacter, D. L. Searching for Memory (Basic Books, New York, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Loftus, E. F. & Greene, E. Warning: even memory for faces may be contagious. Law Hum. Behav. 4, 323–334 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Loftus, E. F. & Hoffman, H. G. Misinformation and memory: the creation of memory. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 118, 100–104 (1989).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Heaps, C. M. & Nash, M. Comparing recollective experience in true and false autobiographical memories. J. Exp. Psychol. Learn. Mem. Cogn. 27, 920–930 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Loftus, E. F. & Pickrell, J. E. The formation of false memories. Psychiatr. Ann. 25, 720–725 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Loftus, E. F. Creating false memories. Sci. Am. 277, 70–75 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Porter, S., Birt, A., Yuille, J. C. & Lehman, D. R. Negotiating false memories: interviewer and rememberer characteristics relate to memory distortion. Psychol. Sci. 11, 507–510 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Braun, K. A., Ellis, R. E. & Loftus, E. F. Make my memory: how advertising can change our memories of the past. Psychol. Mark. 19, 1–23 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Grinley, M. J. Effects of Advertising on Semantic and Episodic Memory. Thesis, Univ. Washington (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Mazzoni, G. & Memon, A. Imagination can create false autobiographical memories. Psychol. Sci. (in the press).

  16. 16

    Wade, K. A., Garry, M., Read, J. D. & Lindsay, S. A picture is worth a thousand lies. Psychon. Bull. Rev. 9, 597–603 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Porter, S., Yuille, J. C. & Lehman, D. R. The nature of real, implanted, and fabricated memories for emotional childhood events. Law Hum. Behav. 23, 517–537 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Fabiani, M., Stadler, M. A. & Wessels, P. M. True but not false memories produce a sensory signature in human laterialized brain potentials. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 12, 941–949 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Gonsalves, B. & Paller, K. A. Neural events that underlie remembering something that never happened. Nature Neurosci. 3, 1316–1320 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Bloomberg, D. Bennett Braun case update: trials set for May, July. Skeptical Inquirer 23, 12–13 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Pendergrast, M. Victims of Memory 2nd edn (Upper Access, Hinesburg, Vermont, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Huff, C. R., Rattner, A. & Sagarin, E. Convicted but Innocent: Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Radelet, M. L. Wrongful convictions of the innocent. Judicature 86, 67–68 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Loftus, E. F. Eyewitness Testimony (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Pemberton, P. S. Woman falsely accused wins $100,000 judgment. San Luis Obispo Tribune B1 (7 December, 2002).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Richards, Z. Rainbow case is settled. Charleston Daily Mail A1 (4 January 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Loge, P. The Innocence Protection Act. Judicature 86, 121 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Loftus, E. F. Memory faults and fixes. Issues Sci. Technol. 18, 41–50 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I thank the neurophysiologist W. Calvin, for provocative discussions about these issues and general guidance.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Related links

Related links

FURTHER INFORMATION

Elizabeth Loftus's homepage

Encyclopedia of Life Sciences

Alzheimer disease

learning and memory

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Loftus, E. Our changeable memories: legal and practical implications. Nat Rev Neurosci 4, 231–234 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1054

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing