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In late 1990, California tried and convicted George Franklin Sr. for murder of an eight-year-old girl killed more than 20 years earlier, based on testimony from his estranged daughter Eileen’s recovered memories coaxed from therapy. Franklin’s conviction inspired a cottage industry for expanding such judicial grievances across the country.
Professor Elizabeth Loftus described conjuring such “evidence” a quarter-century ago in her exposé titled “The Reality of Recovered Memories” in American Psychologist. In her seminal article, Loftus warned against trusting therapists due to their bias towards assuming the reality of reconstructed memories.
Psychotherapists - Strategies - Constructions - Suggestions - Therapists
She described psychotherapists extolling strategies of coaxing such constructions: “through unintentional suggestions from therapists.” She cited documentation of “discrepancies… between therapists’ accounts of what they have done in therapy and what is revealed in [recordings] of those same session.”
Loftus further illustrated the malleability of memory by a prompted recollection of a childhood “lost in the shopping mall” story, subsequently expanded for a formation study published in Psychiatric Annals two years later. Loftus provided four brief narratives during his or her childhood to each of twenty-four adults. One of those events—having been lost in a mall at age five—had been confirmed to be untrue by the subjects’ family members. After interviews, however, five subjects (more than a fifth) accepted the implanted memory as genuine, and invented details.
Everyone - Manipulation - Proportion - Humanity - Memories
While not everyone seems inherently susceptible to such manipulation, a non-trivial proportion of humanity appears to have memories vulnerable to influence by “Inception”-like manipulation (sans visual effects). Ira Hyman investigated mental imagery for inventing false childhood memories, explaining his results in Journal of Memory and Language. He tested subjects’ memory of a non-incident of playing at a wedding reception and spilling the punch bowl on the bride’s parents—an emotionally evocative but non-disturbing circumstance.
Other studies indicate that recalled memories thus cannot be relied upon for accurate information....
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