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The neuroscience of memory: implications for the courtroom

Nature Reviews Neuroscience volume 14, pages 649658 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Although memory can be hazy at times, it is often assumed that memories of violent or otherwise stressful events are so well encoded that they are effectively indelible and that confidently retrieved memories are almost certainly accurate. However, findings from basic psychological research and neuroscience studies indicate that memory is a reconstructive process that is susceptible to distortion. In the courtroom, even minor memory distortions can have severe consequences that are partly driven by common misunderstandings about memory — for example, that memory is more veridical than it may actually be.

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Author information

Author notes

    • Joyce W. Lacy
    •  & Craig E. L. Stark

    All authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California 91702, USA.

    • Joyce W. Lacy
  2. Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, California 92697–3800, USA.

    • Craig E. L. Stark

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  1. Search for Joyce W. Lacy in:

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Craig E. L. Stark.

Glossary

Lie detection training

Classroom instruction given to law enforcement personnel on how to detect subtle cues of deception.

Misinformation effect

A distortion in an original memory or the creation of a false memory after being exposed to misleading information related to the memory. The 'misinformation' is considered 'misleading' as it detracts from the true memory, not because it is purposefully deceitful.

War of the Ghosts

A Native American fable. It was used by Barlett to show that it was difficult for English participants to recall the fable precisely because it did not fit into their conceptual framework; that is, English participants were not familiar with Native American traditions, and they therefore tended to reinterpret the story in a context more in line with English culture.

Weapon focus

The tendency for a witness's attention to be drawn to a weapon, thereby increasing subsequent memory for the weapon but impairing memory for the perpetrator.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3563

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