The Fiction of Memory

Professor Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior, Professor of Law, School of Law, University of California - Irvine, USA

Co-presented by the University of NSW School of Psychology, The Psychology Foundation of Australia, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, and the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

3 January, 2017

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 for 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 also 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, have consequences for people, affecting later thoughts, intentions, and behaviours. 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 behavioural 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

Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor at the University of California - Irvine. She has published 23 books and over 500 scientific articles on the malleability of human memory. She has been recognized for her research with seven honorary doctorates and election to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. Her expertise in memory has profound implications for the legal system and consequently she been an expert witness or consultant in hundreds of court cases.

Elizabeth Loftus is a guest of Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition conference SARMAC XII