SPEAKER 1: I want to welcome you all to our last law psychology and human development speaker event of the season. This is the big one when we confer our award for lifetime achievement in the field, what you'll see to your left over here. If the truth be told, our speaker today is the person who we sort of had in mind when we invented the award, and she's graciously agreed to be here with us today, and Professor Ceci is going to do the formal introductory honors.
STEPHEN CECI: Thanks, Jeff. You've heard people say before that today's speaker doesn't really need an introduction, and this couldn't be more true than today. Because when the psych and law faculty got together and decided, who did we want to give the lifetime contribution awards to, two people immediately shot to the front, Michael Gazzaniga and today's speaker, Elizabeth Loftus.
It's not a coincidence they're both members of the National Academy of Science, and since there's no Nobel Prize awarded in psychology, I would argue that the most prestigious award a psychologist can have is to be inducted the National Academy of Sciences. And Elizabeth Loftus was one of the first women in psychology to be inducted, and it wasn't a coincidence either, because if you look at her record, she's pretty much aced everything. Depending on what source material you read, she's either the most highly cited woman psychologist ever or the second most highly cited psychologist ever. It's quite an awesome honor.
She's received lifetime career awards all over the place, APA, APS. She was the former president of the Association of Psychological Sciences. She regards, I think, among all of her awards, and really, she has too many awards for me to enumerate today, but she regards as her most important-- and I know why-- award was from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she's a fellow, they awarded her their lifetime award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.
And I know why that's meaningful to today's speaker, because for decades she has fought the good fight. And in the mid-1990s when the country was roiling from these so-called memory wars over the validity of so-called repressed memories, the American Psychological Association said, look, we want to convene a panel of six really outstanding scholars, three of whom are clinicians, three of whom are memory scientists, and we want them to come up with a consensus statement. And the very first person that the scientific directorate came up with was Elizabeth Loftus, for obvious reasons.
Over the years, she's made seminal contributions to basic memory theory, spreading activation research, coexistence, overwrite, the famous misinformation effect, and on and on and on. These, of course, are why she's so highly cited. And then starting a couple decades ago, she made the courageous journey from the laboratory into the court room. And I suspect, although I haven't had a preview, but I suspect that today's talk will give you an illustration of how a premier basic scientist can translate her research in a socially meaningful way.
I just want to finish my introduction by reading a quote from a recent volume by Ed Diener and his associates in the Archives of Scientific Psychology. They came up with a methodology last fall for ranking, they termed, the most eminent psychologists of the modern era. And I'll just read you their conclusion.
They say, "From the work of people such as Kahneman and Tversky, Shelley Taylor, Larry Squire, Elizabeth Loftus, Susan Fiske, Michael Posner, and Richie Davidson, we can see that psychologists and neuroscientists have learned important new things about human behavior. This raises the issue of whether it might be time for a Nobel award in psychology." And they also note, by the way, that in the so-called modern era of psychology, Elizabeth Loftus is, according to their rankings, number two. According to mine, she's number one.
So without further adieu, I bring you Elizabeth Loftus.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Thank you. OK.
STEPHEN CECI: Do you need [INAUDIBLE]?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Thank you, Steve. I'll just [INAUDIBLE].
STEPHEN CECI: Let's get this off. We'll get that off and--
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Thank you, Steve, for that wonderful introduction. I really, really appreciate it. Steve was in the trenches with me during that time when the APA committee was meeting on recovered memories. And if you serve on APA committees, one of the fun things about it is that you work all day, and then you go out to dinner, and have a good meal and conversation, and it's kind of a fun time in the evening. I don't remember, Steve, if you know that we started eating together, but by the end of the two years of working together, we were eating separately. Not you and I, the three-- and the three.
So anyhow, it is a pleasure, really, for me to be back at Cornell and have a chance to talk with you about the work that I, and many of my collaborators, have done over the years on the topic of what I guess I'm calling here The Memory Factory. And in the course of this talk, I'm going to tell you a little bit about some of the older studies that are the predecessors for some more current work that we've done and published in the last three or four years, and with a few new things that are going on in the lab.
But I did want to start with an example that kind of fell in my lap when the most popular news anchor Brian Williams got in some trouble. And you might remember reading this, because there was a lot of news about it, when he was talking about this harrowing experience that he had, where he went to Iraq and his helicopter was attacked. So here he is on Letterman in 2013 talking about this experience. "Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in. We figure out how to land safely and we did."
And he told a similar story, actually, in 2015, early this year. This time he told that he was-- a similar story that he was "traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. We landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm."
So I go into my office shortly after a problem was exposed with Brian Williams, my answering machine light is flashing, I pick it up and dial in my secret code to listen to the message, and I thought you might like to hear what I heard.
SPEAKER 2: Hi, Miss Loftus. Yes, I was just curious why you're coming to the support of Brian Williams. You must be his personal friend or something, or, I don't know, maybe because he's an establishment guy, you're coming to his defense. But after everything I've read, it's obvious that this guy fabricated the entire story about being in that helicopter in Iraq that was shot down, and you're trying to claim that his memory could have changed? [LAUGHTER]
Miss Loftus, you have credentials to protect here. I don't know if you know that, but it makes you look very silly. If I was in-- if I was on the freeway and I saw a bad car accident when I was 18 years-old, and then later, I claim that I was actually in that car accident-- anyway, it's a joke, because NBC officials were warned a long time ago that he was inflating his biography with Indiana Jones like stories, so come on.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: OK, now, the only reason he stopped is because we have an answering machine system that after 1 minute and 40 seconds tells you that you have 20 seconds to go and that's it. So he obviously got his warning, he sped up his little ending, but he didn't really end in time. But he got cut off by the answering machine.
And really, what is he talking about? He's talking about the fact that it was ultimately revealed that Brian Williams told a very different story shortly after he went to Iraq. He was covering the events in Iraq. They occurred in 2003. And right afterwards, he reported, essentially, the truth, which is that he had arrived 30 to 60 minutes after another helicopter had been hit. So what's going on here? Is he an out-and-out fabricator or what else could be happening?
And his example here is eerily similar to my former favorite example, which is the example of Hillary Clinton's memory, a memory she expressed when she was running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. Because when she was running back in 2008, she talked about a harrowing experience when she landed in Bosnia. She said she landed under sniper fire and that there was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead they just had to run with their heads down to get to their vehicles, to get to their base.
And back then, I don't know what Hilary was thinking, and I think I have a little bit better idea now. She did go to Bosnia earlier, so that part of her memory was right, but she didn't go by herself. She went with other people, and some of those other people were taking photographs and videos. And so here you see that she's being greeted by children. She's being greeted by other people. She's there with her and her daughter Chelsea in the days when Chelsea had curly hair. And admittedly this trip was back in 1996, but what's going on with Hillary?
Well, the pundits, back then, called her a liar, an out-and-out liar, just like they're doing with Brian Williams. One of them gave her four Pinocchios. Four Pinocchios, because she said so many things that ended up not being true. There was no corkscrew landing, as she had described, there was no sniper fire, there was no canceled airport reception, and she was not the First Lady to go into a war zone.
Well, she at least came up with an explanation. She was confronted with the evidence and here's what she said. She said, "I made a mistake. I had a different memory. I made a mistake-- that happens-- that proves I'm human which for some people is a revelation," she said.
Now, Brian Williams, he's tried to come forward with a similar explanation. He said, "I would not have chosen to make this mistake. I don't know what screwed up in my mind to cause me to conflate one aircraft with another."
But the world hasn't been so kind to Brian Williams. I mean, Hillary is running for president and may be our next president. But Brian Williams? Well, before all this happened, the New York Times did a poll of the most trusted people in America. Before all this happened, Brian Williams was number 23, around there with Warren Buffett. After this all happened-- just change that to After, it should say After-- he dropped to 835, right down along nearby a number given to Duck Dynasty. And I now call this the $5 million memory mistake, because Brian Williams was suspended without pay for 6 months from his $10 million a year annual salary at NBC.
So well, I'm not usually thinking about-- I mean, I sometimes do-- the memory mistakes that famous news anchors or politicians make. Usually I'm thinking about memory mistakes as they might be occurring in the context of legal cases.
And so I spent a lot of time thinking, for example, about the hundreds of people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes that they didn't do. Maybe a lot of people in this room know about the work of the Innocence Project, the more than 300 people on the Innocence Project website who have been exonerated, proven innocent of crimes they didn't do. Even after they may have served 10 or 15 or 20 or more years, DNA testing has now proven their actual innocence.
And when those cases have been analyzed, the major cause responsible in about 3/4 of the cases is faulty eyewitness testimony, faulty human memory. And so I just like to use this factoid to motivate an interest in the study of memory, and what we might learn about memory, and how we might use the science of memory to make this world a better place.
So what have I learned in many decades of working on these issues? Well, first of all, we've developed a couple of paradigms for studying memory. And so one of them you might now call the misinformation paradigm. And what happens here is people get exposed to some kind of event, a simulated crime or accident, later on they're going to get some post-event information and it might be a little misleading in some way, and then finally, our experimental subject witnesses will be tested to see what they remember.
I wanted to give you an example just so you can see the richness of materials that are often used in these studies. So here are some materials that are modified from those prepared by two other psychologists, Okado and Stark. And what you see in this scenario is a woman is walking down the street. A lot of things happen to her. Notably, in the middle of this scenario, there's a guy who bumps into her, causes her to drop her belongings. He looks like he's trying to help her pick them up, but while he's at it, he reaches into her bag, pulls out her wallet, and he puts it in his jacket pocket.
And later on, more things happen to this woman. Eventually she notices her wallet's gone. She starts to talk to other people. Did you see anybody come near me, and which way did he go?
Afterwards, our witnesses will be exposed to some new information, just as people might when they are talking to other witnesses or interrogated by people who have talked to others. And this other witness might mostly recount things fairly accurately about that crime scenario, but sprinkled into this mostly accurate recounting are little bits of misinformation. And so here you see the other witness talk about that moment when the man bumped into the woman, and the other witness is recalling that when he reached into her bag, he took out her wallet and put it in his pants pocket, a piece of misinformation. And the other witness supposedly finishes the account.
So now you see an example of a critical item where what our witnesses actually saw is the guy put the wallet in the jacket pocket, but the misinformation that was exposed later on to the witness is that the wallet went into the pants pocket. And now our subject has to answer, where did you actually see him put the wallet after he took it out of the bag? And you can see whether they respond based on what they actually saw or whether they respond based on the suggestions from the other witness.
And so what we find then is misinformation that is conveyed to somebody-- in this example, through the testimony of another witness-- can negatively affect memory.
And this follows on work that I did decades ago in which we showed people a simulated accident. A car goes through an intersection with a stop sign. And with a single leading question that suggests that it was a yield sign at the intersection, we get lots of people to claim and remember they saw the scene with a yield sign, not a stop sign.
So now I've basically summarized for you decades of work on something we now call the misinformation effect. And what I want to do at this point is, I just want to try a little demonstration with you. And so I'm going to base this demonstration on some work that I have done with two former graduate students from UC Irvine, Maya Cook and Julie Kwak, and also a colleague Don Hoffman from Cognitive Sciences.
And in this work, we show people-- we happen to show people faces. So I'm going to do a little demonstration with you in which I'm going to show you some faces. And I'd just like you to kind of go with the flow, don't think too much, just so you can get a sense of what it might be like to be a subject in this research.
We start with a study phase where I'll show you some faces and then later I'm going to ask you some questions. So here's your study phase.
OK, in our research with these materials, we'd have more faces. We'd have more time goes by. I don't want to waste my time here letting time go by, so I'm going to go right into the quiz that I'm going to give you, and you don't really have to take out a piece of paper, because you'll be able to do this in your head.
I'm going to now quiz you in this way. I'm going to show you a pair of faces and you just think to yourself, did you see in the study phase, the one on your left or the one on your right? So think to yourself. Don't say anything out loud. Did you see the one on your left or the one on your right? Think to yourself. Don't say anything out loud. Did you see the one on your left or did you see the one on your right in the study phase?
So what might happen at this point is more time would pass. Maybe there'd be-- we'd have more quiz trials and something. But more time would pass, and then we'd get into the final test or another test. And just to show you some other ways of testing, and a way that I think might work in an audience like this so we can share our thoughts with each other is, I'm going to show you a pair of faces, and I'm going to ask you to raise your hand and vote for the face that you saw in the study phase. So I'll ask you to vote by raising your hand, so that everyone can look around and see how each other is voting.
So here's our first test trial. How many people here saw the one on the right? Raise your hand. In the study phase. We have two hands that are sitting next to each other. Two hands and only two sitting-- are you two related or something? Are you feeling a little weird? How many saw the one on the right-- or the left? Sorry. Are you feeling weird yet?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. I was thinking that [INAUDIBLE].
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Oh, OK. She's changing her vote. That's OK. All right, but I think we can see there's an overwhelming preference here for the face on the left.
OK, how about this one? How many saw the one on the left in the study phase? Raise your hand. We see one hand, but she's from Switzerland. I don't know if that-- [LAUGHTER]
STEPHEN CECI: That explains it.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: --that explains it. But how many saw the one on the right? OK, look around. Are you feeling a little weird? She's actually a very nice person and does good work, but you have to admit you are in the minority there. Overwhelming preference, in this case.
In the study phase, how many saw the one on the left? Raise your hand. Oh, I see a bunch of hands. How many saw the one on the right in the study phase? I see bunch of hands. And then I see a whole lot of wimps, people who won't vote because you're scared of being wrong. But of those who did vote, you're deeply divided. Of course, you recognize that only half of you are right and the other half are wrong. Why are you wrong? I made you wrong. I made you wrong right here in the middle of a talk on false memories, and I'm going to tell you how I did it.
I showed you three faces, 1, 2, and 3. Now let's jump to the final test. I gave you a pair of faces and asked you to pick the one you saw in the study phase. In the first face, the correct answer is the one on the left, and overwhelmingly you preferred that. For the second face, I gave you a pair. The correct answer is the one on the right. Overwhelmingly you preferred that. For the third face, I gave you a pair. The correct answer was the one on the right, and that's where you were divided. Why are you divided?
Now, you may be looking at those faces saying, well, maybe they're more similar to each other and that's why we were divided, but that's not the reason you made the mistakes that you made. Because these faces are constructed using the same algorithm where the internal features are altered, but the external features are kept the same, and that same algorithm is used to create these pairs of faces. They're all created with the same algorithm, plus there's counterbalancing and so on. So it's not the case that the third pair happens to be more similar. The reason you were wrong on that third face is because of what I did to you during the retention interval, during that period of time between the study phase and that final test.
Because what I did is this. For the first face, I showed you a quiz trial in which the true face was paired with a completely novel one. And as you sat there-- we know this from 20 experiments with these materials-- as you sat there silently, you said to yourself, I saw the one on the right.
For the second face, I didn't quiz you at all. And you can see in the absence of any quizzing, people can be pretty accurate, if you don't live in Switzerland.
For the third face, I gave you a pair that included the altered face alongside the totally novel one. And as you sat there, most of you said to yourself, the one on the left. So that later on when I give you the final test, you stick with-- some of you stick with the altered face. Even though the true face is essentially staring you in the face, you don't recognize it anymore, because your memory has been altered by that post-event activity that seduced you into picking the wrong face.
And in our experiments with these materials, we have found that a post-event activity that induces people to pick the wrong face will affect their later ability to accurately identify the right face. And then we're interested in other kinds of follow-up questions, like, do you do you actually have to commit to the wrong face or is just mere exposure to the wrong face enough? And we find that commitment produces the strongest negative effect on memory, but even mere exposure can have some effect.
And I think that this is important in helping us think about an interesting thing that happened with one of those Innocence Project wrongful convictions. One of the most famous wrongful convictions in this country, and maybe you've heard about this individual who was wrongfully convicted. His name is Ronald Cotton. He was accused of rape. The rape victim, Jennifer Thompson, was a college student in North Carolina. She was raped one night and ultimately she would identify Ronald Cotton as her rapist.
She was a very-- and still is a very compelling witness. Very articulate, even calm, and she was just very persuasive. So the jury had no trouble convicting Ronald based on her positive, confident, compelling identification.
So now jump ahead. Jump ahead. DNA testing has proven that it wasn't Ronald Cotton who committed the rape. It was another man named Bobby Poole. The detective in this case knew that he had to tell Jennifer the news. She's now-- years have gone by. She's married, she's got kids, she's living a little bit ways away, but he wants to tell her in person. And so he goes to her house and says, I do have to tell you that we did the DNA testing and the rapist was not Ronald Cotton.
And I think what made this case special, even more-- not just one more case of a wrongful conviction based on faulty eyewitness testimony, not just one more case of a rape conviction based on faulty eyewitness testimony, not just one more case of a rape conviction based on faulty eyewitness testimony involving a cross-racial identification. What made this case special is what happened next, because what Jennifer said to the detective is, I feel so horrible. I'd like to meet Ronald. I'd like to ask him if he could ever forgive me for what's happened and for all the years he spent in prison as an innocent person.
And that meeting was arranged. And she asked for forgiveness, he forgave her, and the two of them became friends, and they started lecturing on the subject of wrongful convictions and faulty eyewitness testimony. They started trying to promote for reforms in the system. Their families became friends. They wrote a book together, aptly called, Picking Cotton, which is the story-- their stories-- from their own separate perspectives kind of woven together. And it's really a great book and I think it would be great for psych law classes.
And 60 Minutes thought it was a great story too, and so they decided to do, actually, a two-part series on the Cotton case, and I had a chance to be interviewed by the 60 Minutes journalist Leslie Stahl. And so there you can see, even though they pay distinguished professors a decent salary at UC Irvine, I am wearing the same jacket. But I'm wearing for you my favorite jacket, so that is the story.
But I'm not really here to show you the jacket, but to let you know that for this interview, I did the demonstration with Lesley Stahl that I did with you. And when I got to that last pair of faces, I mean, she looked at them kind of for the longest time, and then she said, I am baffled. But she went ahead and picked the wrong face. So for all of you in this room who picked the wrong face, you are in excellent company with one of our leading American journalists.
What was interesting to me about this case, too, is a little-known fact, which is that at some point there were rumors swirling around, that maybe Ronald was innocent but convicted, and that it was Bobby Poole.
So there was an arrangement made for Jennifer to be exposed to Bobby Poole, her actual rapist, the person who she said, she studied his face during the rape in the evening so that she could one day identify him. And she looked at Bobby Poole and said, no, it's not him. Because Ronald had become her memory.
And not long ago, I met Jennifer again, and I said, is Ronald still your memory? Because it was for a long time even after she believed and knew about the DNA. She said, well, it's sort of no one now, it's kind of no one.
These studies get attacked. Oh, these laboratory studies, especially with artificial faces. I mean, maybe out there in the real world where it's really frightening and stressful, people wouldn't make these kinds of mistakes, and maybe these laboratory studies aren't really telling us very much about the real world. I mean, we as psychologists hear this kind of argument about ecological validity all the time, and there are a lot of ways that we've learned to respond to these concerns. But one way, one way is to actually go out there and find people who are undergoing really stressful experiences, for one reason or another, and to then study their memory for what they've experienced.
And that's one of the things that has now been done with a very unusual group of subjects who were enduring a stressful experience for some other reason, and I'm talking about soldiers in our military who are going to survival school. What they're going to survival school for is to learn what it's going to be like for them if they're ever captured as prisoners of war. And during the course of their experience in survival school, they're going to have an aggressive, hostile interrogation that's going to last for 30 minutes, and they're going to have to try to identify the person who did this.
Now, my access to this unusual group of people comes from a collaboration with Charles Morgan. He's a psychiatrist, and he's been studying the survival school soldiers for at least a decade now, primarily interested in their coping, and resilience, and all kinds of things that a psychiatrist might be interested in.
By the way, these soldiers are learning how to evade the enemy, how to escape if they're hunted down, how to resist if they're ever being tortured or imprisoned. They do get captured and they get put into a prisoner of war camp that looks something like you see here, although these schools are actually located in a few places, so it's a little bit different depending on the place.
They're hooded and strapped together. They're stripped of their identities. They're thrown in these little cells with little third world toilets and no toilet paper. They're extracted by helicopter, which is what's going to actually happen to them if they're ever being held in a jungle area where, let's say, it's too dense for the helicopter to land. And then ultimately, they are rescued and there's an absolute flood of emotion associated with this experience.
Morgan and colleagues have measured the cortisol levels-- stress hormone levels-- associated with this survival school experience and you see them there in red. They are as high or higher than cortisol levels associated with other kinds of activities that are thought to be stressful for people, like skydiving for the first time, which you see in green.
So I talked Morgan, not too long ago, into putting some misinformation into the survival school research paradigm so we could look at misinformation. And so just to take you through our paper that was published about a year and a half ago.
First, people are getting some classroom instruction. This is just a little bit more detail about what happens. They go through instruction for four days. They're out in the wilderness trying not to be captured. That's very stressful and that lasts for about four days. But they do get captured, and they get put into that prisoner of war camp. And a number of things happen to them when they're there, including that aggressive, hostile 30-minute interrogation. And that's where some of them are going to be then exposed to misinformation, not during the interrogation but after it's over, and others will not be. And finally, they're going to get some memory tests.
So here's one of the ways that we planted misinformation in the minds of these soldiers. Look at this photo of your interrogator. We want to ask you a few questions about that interrogation. Did he give you anything to eat? Did he give you a blanket? Did he let you talk to anybody else? But the trick is that this is a photograph of a completely different person.
So the real interrogator-- we can call him the perp-- might look like this guy, but the guy in the photo that's held up is misinformation to the misinformed group might look like this guy. And ultimately, in this particular study, we did a target absent lineup, so the real guy isn't there. And you see that this is a nine-person photo lineup. The foil shown in the photo to the misinformed subjects is in the number 2 position, and I've blocked out the faces of the others in this target absent lineup for national security reasons. They didn't look at the thing this way.
So here's what these soldiers did in the absence of any misinformation. 53% of them went ahead and picked someone. They were all wrong, because it's target absent. And not particularly often were they picking the key foil, the photo that was shown to the misinformed group. But here is what the soldiers did who had been exposed to this misleading post-event information. 91% of the time they went ahead and picked someone, they were all wrong, and mostly they were picking the foil photograph presented to them as misinformation.
In other parts of this study, we asked people about the presence of objects in the interrogation room. There was no telephone. There was no weapon. There were no glasses on the interrogator. And yet after exposing some of these soldiers to misinformation to the effect that these objects existed, many of these soldiers claimed that they saw those objects themselves, and some would actually then describe them.
And so these studies show that here, I mean, you do have a really stressful experience. Even these trained soldiers can be led to make false-- well, they do make false identifications. They make them with high confidence. We can get even more of them if we feed people misinformation and more reports of nonexistent objects.
And so this is just an example of the continuing work on the misinformation effect, something that's been going on now for many decades, showing that when you expose people to misleading information, it can negatively affect their memory.
And out there in the real world, misinformation is everywhere. So we get misinformation if we talk to other witnesses at a crime scene, or over here another witness be interviewed, or get interviewed by a suggestive or biased interviewer. We get misinformation when we turn on media-- get media coverage about some, say, a high publicity event that we might have been exposed to. All of these situations can create an opportunity for this transformation or contamination of memory.
Well, then, I guess, since this is lifetime, I'll now take you up to about 20 years ago. We start to see this even more bizarre kind of memory situation in our society. Some people were going into therapy. They were going in with one problem, like they had an eating disorder or maybe they were depressed, and they were coming out of therapy with a completely different problem, namely, these horrific memories of abuse. Sometimes abuse and satanic rituals where they were claiming they were forced to endure animal sacrifice and baby breeding, baby sacrifice, the works.
And some of these cases, you could find some evidence-- not corroborating evidence. There was rarely, if ever, any corroborating evidence. But in many of these-- in some of these cases, you could find evidence of discorroboration, if you want to call it that, that the memories were biologically, or geographically, or psychologically impossible, as when the actress Roseanne described in detail how her mother molested her when she was 6 months-old.
But if these memories aren't real, where could they be coming from? And this is where I was trying to search around for a way of studying this, and the misinformation effect was just sort of not cutting it with people. To be involved in a case where somebody is claiming decades of rapes and witnessing murders, and you're telling them that you can turn a stop sign into a yield sign? You know, it just isn't very compelling in a courtroom.
We needed some other paradigm, something that we could do, where we could maybe study these really big rich false memories. And that was the genesis for the idea of using what we're now calling the rich false memory paradigm, where you don't start with any event at all, but you ply people with suggestive information about the past, and then you test them to see what it is they remember about their childhood or about their more recent past.
So our first study, published now a couple of decades ago, we decided we would plant a false-- we didn't think the Human Subjects Committee was going to think very kindly on the idea of planting a false memory that daddy molested you in satanic rituals, but maybe we could find an analog, which is what psychological researchers do, something that would be at least mildly traumatic if it actually had happened. And we hit upon the idea, why don't we try to plant a false memory that when you were a kid, you were lost in a shopping mall, you were frightened and crying, you were ultimately rescued by an elderly person, and reunited with the family.
And we were able to plant this false memory in about a quarter of our sample of ordinary men and women adults. People complained about this, because, well, getting lost is kind of common. Can't you show us you can plant a false memory of something that would be a little bit more bizarre, or unusual, or traumatic if it actually had happened? And other researchers came forward to-- and we ourselves to accomplish this.
So a group in Tennessee planted a false memory that when you were a kid, you nearly drowned and had to be rescued by a lifeguard, succeeding with about a third of their subjects. And a group in Canada planted a false memory that when you were a kid, you were attacked by a vicious animal or had a serious indoor or outdoor accident, succeeding with about 50% of their sample. And in collaboration with a group in Italy, we planted a false memory that when you were a kid, you witnessed a person being demonically possessed.
And in a study done in the state of Washington, planted a false memory that you had an accident at a family wedding and had to be taken to the hospital-- no, that's right, you spilled punch all over the parents of the bride. I was getting ahead of myself thinking about Steve Ceci and his collaborators' study done here with children planting a false memory that you got your hand caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital to get it removed, and my thought was causing a conflation of two ideas. That's very interesting to me to be happening right here in the middle of a talk. OK.
And just two months ago in Psych Science, this study-- a Canadian study by Shaw & Porter. This is quite remarkable. They used some of these highly suggestive techniques to plant a false memory that when you were a teenager, you were arrested for-- you got caught committing a crime, and the crime was serious enough that police came to investigate it. They succeeded with 70% of their sample. So they're getting really good at knowing how to do this with people.
Well, all of those studies that use a pretty strong form of suggestion, and of course, the therapists would deny that they do anything like that in their psychotherapy. We don't say, I've talked to your parents and found out this happened to you. I mean, but they are doing things, though, that maybe are not quite as strongly suggestive, but still are suggestive, and we now know can lead people to develop false beliefs or false memories.
They're using things like guided imagination with people who aren't remembering what the therapist thinks the person should be remembering, or sexualize dream interpretation. Sometimes they're using hypnosis or they're exposing people to other people's memories, as happens in group therapy. Or they're plying patients with false information. They don't-- I mean, the new high tech way to do this in the experiments is to manipulate memory with doctored photographs. We agree the therapists don't seem to be using that technique right now.
I'll just say a word about the doctored photographs. There was a really nice study done by a group in New Zealand where they took a photograph of the subject when the subject was a kid with his father, let's say, Photoshopped it into a hot air balloon ride, and presented this doctored photo to experimental subjects, and asked them to try to recall the experience. And viewing the doctored photograph led to about half of the subjects starting to remember all or part of this time in the hot air balloon ride that had been totally made up through the doctored photo.
And Slate.com got very interested in doctored photographs as a way to manipulate memory. They did a long article called "The Memory Doctor," and in anticipation of publishing this article online, they did an experiment with their readers. So they presented readers with political photographs. Here's a photograph of our president shaking the hand of the former president of Iran. And they asked people, do you remember seeing this photo when it came out in the news and what do you remember about it?
Do you remember this photo when the famous baseball player Roger Clemens was visiting George Bush at his ranch on vacation during Hurricane Katrina? Remember that? Well, lots of people said, yeah, I remember that. They couldn't have, because it was created with Photoshop. So somebody else was visiting Bush, but Clemens' photo was Photoshopped into the photo.
And our president didn't show the hand of the president of Iran. That was created by Photoshop too. And yet many people claim to have seen these doctored photographs. There were five of them. This was some huge study. Each faked photo shown to 1,000 different readers. And if you look at the green bar, you see that about 15% claim to have seen that Bush-Clemens vacation photo. And if you look at the light blue bar on the right, you see a little over a quarter of the subjects claim to have seen that Obama handshake.
There was a little bit of demographic information obtained from these subjects, not as much as we would have liked, so we got our hands on the raw data. And with my former graduate student, Steven Frenda, who's now teaching in New York City, we showed that your political orientation affected the likelihood of developing a particular kind of false memory. So if you're a conservative Republican, for example, you're more likely to fall for the Bush-- the photo that makes Obama look bad. And conversely, you're slightly more likely, if you're a liberal, to fall for the Bush vacation photo.
They don't just fall for the photo, they had little boxes they can write in and tell you what they were thinking at the time. So here's a subject who says, "Read it on the internet at work, remember it perfectly." Or another one, "I do remember Fox freaking out about this. They said it made America look weak." And one of the Bush recallers, "Big Astros fan, live in Texas, very much remember this," he said. And another one, "I really hated the fact that while Bush is entertaining a baseball legend, the Astrodome is being used as a makeshift hotel."
Our work has been criticized, not the doctored photograph work that people have done, but in some of the other work, people have said, you know, maybe it really happened. Maybe it really happened that the subject was lost in the mall or attacked by an animal, and the parent forgot but the subject remembers. This has led us to want to plant false memories of something that's either implausible or impossible.
So we planted false memories that when you were a kid, you went on a trip to Disney and had your ear licked disturbingly and inappropriately by the Pluto character. And we succeeded in planting that false memory, and people said, well, you know, maybe it really happened. Pedophiles like to go and work in places where there are children, and maybe somebody-- pedophiles-- dressed up, went to work at Disney, and started licking ears.
And so we then planted false memories-- this study done in conjunction with Kathy Braun, who's teaching here at Cornell-- planting a false memory that on a childhood trip, you met Bugs Bunny. Impossible, because Bugs is a Warner Brothers character and would not be allowed at a Disney resort.
So I moved to UC Irvine a little over a decade ago, and there with my then post-doc and grad students, we decided we want to look at this question, if I plant a false memory in you, does it have repercussions? Does it affect your later thoughts, your later intentions, or even your later behavior?
And with my collaborators, our first attempt to do this was to plant a false memory that you got sick eating a particular food as a child, and then we'll see whether you still want to eat that food. So we planted false memories in some people that you got sick eating hard-boiled eggs and in others that you got sick eating pickles. And we also came up with a technique that was so much easier than the really tedious lost in the mall method, which involved contacting the parents and arranging for all these individual interviews. We know how to plant false memories in the mind of a whole group of people at one time.
And just to show you how simple this is, we bring people in-- this is a variation of the false feedback procedure-- you bring people in, you get a bunch of data from them about their feelings about foods and their personality. This is all just to make what's going to happen later seem more credible. Because what's going to happen later is, they're going to come back a week later, come back to the lab, and we're going to tell them, we fed all your information into this really smart computer program and it determined that certain things happened to you when you were a child.
So Johnny, here's your personalized profile. Johnny doesn't realize that tons of other people in the room have the exact same profile. And Johnny is told that the smart computer has revealed that he got sick after eating a hard-boiled egg as a child. And he's got to dwell on that a little bit, and try to imagine it if he can remember it, and then tell us what he wants to eat at a party where there's a whole long menu, and embedded in that long list are the eggs and the pickles.
So here's how much people want eggs and pickles. If they haven't been exposed to any suggestion at all, they slightly prefer the egg to the pickle in that party. Here's how much they want the food if they were exposed to our manipulation, but they didn't fall for it. If they never developed a false belief or a memory, here's how much they want the foods, and this is now significantly lower. If they were exposed to the manipulation and fell for it, they don't want the food as much.
And when I look at these graphs-- this is really one of the great moments in the life of an experimental psychologist, where the grad students come in with the graphs and the Excel spreadsheets, and you get to see what you have, and I'm looking at this saying, oh my god, we're getting people to not want to eat these foods. If we could do this with a fattening food, we could be on the brink of a new dieting technique.
And so after we had shown this with pickles and eggs, we decided to do it with a fattening food. And we did it with strawberry ice cream. The same methodology. Get a bunch of data from people. A week later they come back. We fed your data into our really smart computer program. We learned, Mary, that you got ill sometime eating strawberry ice cream. It's embedded in a list of other items that we think are true of many kids. And then Mary has to tell us-- she has to elaborate on the experience and think about how she would have felt, if she can't remember it right away, and then tell us what she wants to eat at the party.
Here's how much people want strawberry ice cream in the absence of any feedback at all. Here's how much if they are exposed to the manipulation and they don't buy it. Not too much change. Here's how much they want the strawberry ice cream if they fell for our manipulation and developed a false memory.
We've since shown that this will affect not only what people tell you and think they'd like to eat at a hypothetical party, but actually you could put food in front of people even in a slightly different context, they think it's a different study, and they don't eat as much of that food.
We showed this in one study, in which we collaborated with a group in the Netherlands, with egg salad. And then some elegant work done in Canada by Scoboria, showing the same kind of thing with peach yogurt. You make people believe they got sick eating peach yogurt as a child, and you can give them an opportunity to eat it and weigh the yogurt containers, and they don't weigh as much, because they aren't eating the foods after developing a false belief or memory.
Recently, we showed that you can do this not just with food, but also with alcohol-- so far this hasn't worked with me, but it seems to sort of work with the subjectss-- in a study headed by Seema Clifasefi. We did a similar kind of thing. You got sick on a vodka drink as a teenager. We plant the false belief or false memory in the minds of these individuals. People without feedback, there's how much they want a vodka drink. The red shows you how much they want it if they didn't fall for our manipulation. And if they fell for it, they don't have as much of a preference for a vodka drink.
We wondered, also, if we could make people steer away from things. Could we plant a warm fuzzy memory and make people want to eat something more, like healthy foods more? And we did exactly that with asparagus. We planted a warm fuzzy memory, a childhood memory about asparagus, then we asked people what they want to eat if they're out for a special occasion at a fancy Le Restaurant, and asparagus is on the menu. And we found we could create this positive memory, and those who fell for it wanted to eat more asparagus.
And it was around that time that I developed this wish that I could get my hands on the former-- the first Bush president, who famously is known not to like broccoli. His famous quote is, "I do not like broccoli. I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. I am President of the United States, I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." And I have sympathy for this position, but I also feel if we could just get our hands on the first President Bush and ply him with our manipulation, it would just be a matter of time before broccoli was his very favorite vegetable.
So now, just in the little time I have left, I get asked lots of questions. I can maybe anticipate some of your questions, and we have tried to sometimes address these questions experimentally.
So is there any way to tell the difference between a true memory and a memory that's a product-- a false memory, a product of some other process?
With Carol Laney, my former PhD, we looked specifically at whether the emotional ratings of a true memory would be different from those of people who had a false memory that was very similar. And after planting false memories in the minds of people for things, like, as a child, you saw your parents have a physical fight, and then getting people who truly had the experience, and comparing their emotional ratings, we showed that false memories can be emotional, just as emotional as the true ones. And emotion is no guarantee of authenticity, despite what some clinicians opine when they're testifying in court cases.
Maybe there's some neuroimaging differences that we could find in true and false memories. And so in a collaboration with Okado and Stark, who know something about neuroimaging, we did a misinformation experiment. And then as people were recounting what they remembered about the crime scene, and they were either remembering something they truly saw or remembering something that they only believed to be true because of misinformation, while we did find a tiny bit of more activity in the visual cortex when people were recounting a true memory, and a tiny more activity in the auditory cortex when people were recounting as true something that they only heard about, the overwhelming impression from this work is the similarity of the neural signals for true and false memories.
You might think that maybe true memories would persist longer than false memories. But in a study done with Chinese collaborators headed by Bi Zhu, we planted misinformation memories and then came back to people a year and a half later to see what was still left in their memory. Maybe the true memories would persist longer than the false memories, but in fact, those true memories and false memories persisted equally often about half the time and more than just pure random foil memories.
We've tried to look at the conditions under which people are more or less susceptible to memory contamination. And so recently, we did a study of sleep deprivation. The study headed by my former graduate student Steven Frenda, also done with Kim Fenn, who is a sleep researcher at Michigan State, and other collaborators.
And what we did is either deprived people of sleep or we allowed them to sleep, and then we ran them through one of these false memory studies, and we found that those who were sleep deprived were far more susceptible to this kind of memory contamination. And I think we ought to think about this in light of the propensity of some police departments to interview witnesses and especially suspects into the wee hours of the morning when they are especially susceptible.
I'm almost done, but I can't resist telling you about this one study, is everyone susceptible? We found a group of people, and we thought if anyone is going to be immune to these kinds of manipulations, it would be this group. They're a group of people who have superior autobiographical memories. The group that studies them at UC Irvine calls them HSAMs, for highly superior autobiographical memory people. They remember just about everything they did every day of their adult life. They've been featured on 60 Minutes.
So we got our hands on these people. Lawrence Pattias is the grad student who led this project along with the lab that studies the HSAMs. And it's a straightforward study, you just take these people with a superior memory, you find some age matched controls that have normal memories, and you run them through a bunch of memory tasks.
So here is their performance on a misinformation task. If anything, those HSAMs are making even more errors on this misinformation task. And we also ran them through a number of standard tasks, like the DRM, which I don't need to explain here. Their propensity to remember falsely, the critical lure, was equivalent. And our bottom line conclusion in this paper published about a year ago is that these HSAMs-- well, here's our conclusion. I don't have to even remember that these people with strong autobiographical memories were vulnerable to these different memory distortions, just as normal people are.
Right now we're doing some studies on a phenomenon called memory blindness. The kind of analog we're thinking of is, if somebody gives a statement in a police station, and the police officer writes it out but happens to make some mistakes, and hands it back to the witness and says, here's what you said, would you just look at over and sign it, does the witness notice those mistakes?
So headed by Kevin Cochran, we've done a misinformation study. I'll try to tell you briefly how we expose people to this sort of misinformation. We might ask a question like, what is the color of the friend's backpack? And the response might be to say, well, it's basically this red. But later on we're going to come back to the person and we're going to give them some misinformation. We're going to tell them that earlier we asked you about the backpack and you said it was this color, and then some distracting question about it, what brand was it? So we're feeding them misinformation about their earlier response. And they said red, we're telling them they said brown, and now what do we find out?
Well, first of all, when the external information comes from another source, you have one of the standard misinformation paradigms and you get a typical misinformation effect. But when it's coming presumably from you, you still get a misinformation effect, even though it's not quite as strong.
And in our latest work just now submitted for publication, this is the dissertation work of Steven Frenda, showing that if I just get you to create stories about your past-- think about Brian Williams as I tell you this-- especially a heroic story. I ask you to make up a story, a convincing story, so that you can convince other people that it's true, that when you were a child, you rescued a cat that was stuck in a tree, and you had a really warm fuzzy feeling about that.
I won't take you through the whole paradigm, but only to tell you that when people write these stories, they write about 200 words, if left to their own devices, and they shift their own memory in the direction of this heroic experience.
So in prior work with my Chinese collaborators, we have shown that there are correlations, that intelligent people, people who score high on standard tests of intelligence, are slightly more resistant to these manipulations. We do know those individual differences exist at least statistically, but we still have to keep in mind that some of the most intelligent and successful people in our society have succumbed to false memories.
I'm not going to go through the usual implications for theory and implications for practice of ethical issues-- we'll skip ethics-- and I'll just leave you with this one take-home message. I've been working on these problems for 40 years. If I've learned anything, it's this, and that is, just because somebody tells you something with confidence, they say it with a lot of detail, they tell it to you with emotion, it doesn't mean that it really happened.
And such a realization might have made a difference for people like Ronald Cotton, who learned the hard way that memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing.
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you. Thanks. [INAUDIBLE]. I don't know if Steve takes over or if Chuck takes over, but--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] the food studies--
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Yes.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] some people believed [INAUDIBLE] some people didn't, right? How did you measure that and what was the proportion of people who believed and didn't believe it?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, OK, first of all, I-- of course, I didn't have time to explain all-- how do you decide that somebody has-- to classify them as somebody who has fallen for the manipulation? They have to deny that the event happened when they enter the study, they have to increase their confidence from pre to post that this happened to them, and then they actually have to tell us that they have a memory or a belief that it happened. So we have this final memory and belief scale. Or they tell us, no, I really don't think it did or I'm sure it didn't. And so that's just one way we will classify people. They entered without it, they increased their confidence, and they ended up telling us it's a memory and belief, and then they get called a believer.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, it depends on the study, and it depends on, also, the manipulation. In one of our studies, I think we showed-- maybe in the strawberry ice cream study, we might have shown, and using one manipulation, we got 20% who fell for it, and then with a different, slightly better manipulation, we got 40%.
Typically, it's a minority. But you could define your criteria either more liberally or more conservatively and move that percentage around. How much do they have to increase their confidence that it happened? You could say I want them to increase a lot before I'm going to call them a believer. So I'm not quite sure that even 20% or 40% is all that meaningful, because it is a little arbitrary how you decide to classify somebody as falling for it.
AUDIENCE: Do you think that now with the increased recordkeeping of videos and surveillance cameras, child video cameras, your studies, do you think that our confidence could go down? Do you think that nowadays an eyewitness that comes in to identify somebody is going to say, you know what? It could be this guy, but I know my memory's pretty fallible. Because nowadays we have plenty of experiences where we see-- you see a video of yourself-- the undergrads here have, like, probably high-def videos of themselves, and they don't remember them at all, right?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, unfortunately, I don't feel that confident. I do see that law enforcement has shown an appreciation for a lot of this work-- some agencies and some courts-- and this is recognized in court decisions that demand that jury instructions be given to jurors or that expert testimony be admitted with greater frequency.
But I think the world is still-- like the voicemail man, not understanding the idea that somebody could develop a false memory, and instantly wanting to call Brian Williams a liar, not even for a moment thinking, do you really think it's more likely that he deliberately lied when he had such a high probability of getting caught? Would he be that stupid?
So now, you're asking, also, part of your question is about technology and what role it might play. It's hard to know. I'm thinking about a study where people, when they know they have the internet available to look things up, they don't remember the information as well. So if you know you have videos in your computer that you can go back to, will it change your repetitions and other things that-- whatever we might do to help us remember? Valerie, you had a question.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] wonderful talk, and I especially love your final comment, "Memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing." [INAUDIBLE].
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Oh, what really I liked is how I learned how to make it, like, that fragile thing, that was like as exciting-- that was as exciting for me as when the IT people could capture my audio file and I could bring it to you, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Very impressive. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is, of course, legal trials really depend on memory. And you've testified as an expert, you've done all this research, are there are some things you think have been significant improvements, or what would you like to see us all work on to try to implement to actually make the courtroom a place where memory is strengthened or stronger memories are presented?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, I see all of the people who've been working in this area as, they've proposed their reforms, and their reforms might be jury instructions, or their reform might be make sure when you do a lineup, you have unbiased instructions that warn the person that it's OK not to pick anybody. Each of these proposals that sometimes come out of the work that we do might just make a little bit of difference, but collectively, it might make a big difference in terms of reducing the wrongful conviction problem. And I think, just what we can do is sort of get our science out there, and then the people who might help translate that science into practical policy and make people comfortable adopting it.
AUDIENCE: When you mentioned the HSAMs, the population of the exceptional autobiographical memory or essential memory, it made me think of autistic populations. I wonder, have you worked with or has anyone worked with susceptibility rates of false memories with--
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: I'm sure people have done memory studies with autistic kids, but I don't know that any-- well, Steve, maybe you know whether any maybe false memory studies with autistic children as opposed to normal non--
STEPHEN CECI: There was a lot of anecdotal stuff. Some years ago in Syracuse, there was a series of allegations by families of autistic kids alleging to have been sexually abused by teachers, and around then there was more anecdata than scientific data suggesting that they have some special vulnerabilities and some special strengths.
SPEAKER 1: There are DRM studies both with clinical autistics and with people who are on the spectrum, and they're less susceptible.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, they're less susceptible to producing the critical lure, then I'd suspect they don't produce as many true words either.
SPEAKER 1: Ah, their true memories are actually better.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Oh, really? That's really a surprise, in a way. Because usually, often, you get more true memories and more critical lures at the same time, because the true memories are activating the critical lure, but-- hmm.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Yeah.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: There's a hands, hands.
AUDIENCE: I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what kind of misinformation is more likely to get-- what kind of information is more likely to get misinformed, because it seems like-- you were talking about the rape victim. I'm assuming she saw more than one African-American after the incident. Why that specific guy?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: I have a feeling that what happened in that case is that she saw a target absent lineup, of course, because the real guy wasn't in it, and she was seduced by a similar looking guy to pick Ronald. And then she would see him again in court, and so on, and that became her memory. Just like I seduced you into picking the altered photo by not allowing you, at that point, to see the real one, but pairing it with one that was so unfamiliar that you were drawn to the altered one.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, but that happens when some external force focuses you on a foil. But in therapy a lot of things come up, and people seem to be latching onto specific misinformation and not other things that are as likely to come up. I'm sure there's some things that you have an easier time convincing people that happened to them and some things you won't. I assume you'd have a harder time convincing people they were abducted by aliens, for example. Maybe a few people would, but most people won't, so there must be something about the information itself.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: You're right, there are actual people who've been led to believe, for one reason or another, that they were abducted by aliens. And there are some therapists who support that belief system and probably engaged in hypnosis and other kinds of activities that helped to develop those memories.
I think there is work showing that people are more likely to fall for things that are plausible than things that are implausible. But a therapist can make a lot of things seem plausible, because a therapist is an authority figure. And when the therapist says, every one of my clients that I've seen in the last few years with your symptoms was sexually abused as a child and I wonder if something like that didn't happen to you, it's a strong suggestion on a particular topic, making it more plausible and more likely that somebody will pick up on it and follow it.
So plausibility, but it, too, can be manipulated.
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering if you could say this was a false memory or not. So if people witness a crime, maybe a murder or something, and they go in for questioning and they say, I saw this, I saw that. And the police say, if you say that you saw that and it turns out wrong, then you could face criminal charges too, could that fear also create this false memory?
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Well, in your question, embedded in your question, is the idea that people can be punished for certain kinds of responses. And if you're threatening to punish someone if they say something wrong, it's going to make people not want to say that thing. But if you threaten to punish people who don't say enough, it's going to make people say more. So you have a situation there where, I think, it's likely to induce people into wanting to avoid making a response that's going to potentially lead to a punishment for them.
SPEAKER 3: Please join me in thanking Professor Loftus.
ELIZABETH LOFTUS: Oh, thank you all. Thank you. Thank you.
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Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior and Professor of Law at UC-Irvine, presents a fascinating survey of her ground-breaking research on false memory, April 10, 2015 as part of the Human Development Outreach and Extension Program.
Loftus discusses how her research has helped the Innocence Project overturn wrongful convictions based on false eyewitness testimony. She received the 2014-2015 LPHD Lifetime Achievement Award.