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Illusions of Memory
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Elizabeth Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D.

For several decades, I have been manufacturing memories in unsuspecting minds. Sometimes this involves changing details of events that someone actually experienced. Other times it involves planting entire memories event events that never happened – “rich false memories.” People can be led to believe that they did things that would have been rather implausible. They can be led to falsely believe that they had experiences that would have been emotional or traumatic had they actually happened. False memories, like true ones, also have consequences for people, affecting later thoughts, intentions, and behaviors. Can we tell true memories from false ones? In several studies, I created false memories in the minds of people, and then compared them to true memories. Once planted, the false memories look very much like true memories – in terms of behavioral characteristics, emotionality and neural signatures. If false memories can be so readily planted in the mind, do we need to think about “regulating” this mind technology? And what do these pseudomemories say about the nature of memory itself?

Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor at the University of California - Irvine. She holds faculty positions in the Department of Psychology & Social Behavior; the Department of Criminology, Law & Society, and the School of Law. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University. Since then, she has published 22 books and over 500 scientific articles. Loftus's research has focused on the malleability of human memory. She has been recognized for her research with seven honorary doctorates and election to numerous prestigious societies, including the National Academy of Sciences. She is past president of the Association for Psychological Science, the Western Psychological Association, and the American Psychology-Law Society.

Loftus’s memory research has led to her being called as an expert witness or consultant in hundreds of cases. Some of the more well known cases include the McMartin PreSchool Molestation case, the Hillside Strangler, the Abscam cases, the trial of Oliver North, the trial of the officers accused in the Rodney King beating, the Menendez brothers, the Bosnian War trials in the Hague, the Oklahoma Bombing case, and litigation involving Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, and the Duke University Lacrosse players.