(c) Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd., November 14, 1994, Pg. A16 Memory can be implanted: Stu
(c) Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd., November 14, 1994, Pg. A16
Memory can be implanted: Study 25% of adults will believe suggested incidents
By Tracey Tyler
The results, presented at a recent conference of the Criminal Lawyers'
Association, could have implications for sexual abuse cases involving witnesses
who say they have recently "recovered" memories of abuse that occurred in the
Some clinical psychologists feel the mind can bury the trauma of sexual abuse
so deeply that it can only be recovered later by flashbacks, therapy or other
But other researchers say there is no scientific support for the idea that
memories can be buried into the unconscious and recovered years later, applying
the term "false memory syndrome" to the notion.
Elizabeth Loftus, a University of Washington psychologist and leading memory
researcher, told the Toronto conference that her Seattle laboratory recently
conducted an experiment to see if a completely fabricated "memory" could be
Using adults 18 to 53, Loftus and her researchers enlisted the help of older
relatives of the sample group. With this assistance, the subjects were
reminded of a series of incidents that actually happened in their childhood,
plus one fictitious "memory" -- of getting lost in a shopping mall.
Lawyers at the conference were shown a video in which a teenager was
convinced that he not only was lost, but was frightened and crying as well.
He went on to "recall" the incident in great detail, including "remembering"
that the man who eventually rescued him wore glasses and a red flannel shirt
and that his mother warned him never to get lost again.
He expressed surprise after learning that it didn't really occur.
Loftus said although that, about three-quarters of the 24 adult subjects
rejected the false memory, it was believed by nearly one-quarter involved in
A similar study by researchers at Western Washington University found that
between one-fifth and one-quarter of adult subjects believed they once had an
ear infection so painful that they required an overnight stay in hospital,
The same university found a similar number of adult study subjects claimed to
have "remembered" falling into a punch bowl at a wedding when they were
children and spilling punch all over the parents of the bride, she said.
Loftus said the results dispel a notion held by some that only children are
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank