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News Anchor Brian Williams and the Science of Memory

Memory distortion has become a hot topic this week in the wake of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’s admission of falsely recounting one of his experiences during coverage of the Iraq War.

For years, Williams talked about riding in a helicopter that was ultimately forced down after taking fire during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But this week he publicly apologized and admitted that he had been mistaken after reports surfaced that he was not in that particular aircraft, but in a following helicopter.

Williams said he made a mistake in recalling the incident, having conflated video he had seen with his own experience. He described the error as resulting from the “fog of memory over 12 years” and this explanation has fueled interviews in many high-profile outlets with psychological scientists who are memory experts.

Psychological science continues…


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Countering “Neuromyths” in the Movies

PAFF_0205015_NeuroPsyFi_newsfeatureAfter a head injury sustained in a plane crash, CIA assassin Jason Bourne wakes up floating in the Mediterranean Sea with two bullets in his back, a Swiss bank account code implanted in his hip, and no memory of who is or how he ended up in the open ocean. Bourne is afflicted with no memory whatsoever of his identity or life before the accident.

Even with the severe retrograde amnesia Bourne experiences in the movie The Bourne Identity, it’s dubious that he would also lose all sense of his identity. In fact, complete memory loss after a head injury — often reversed after another blow to the head — is a common but rather preposterous representation of brain damage or amnesia.

Neurological disorders have provided inspiration for countless Hollywood blockbusters and independent films, but those maladies are often loaded with scientific…


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Inside the Psychologist’s Studio: Paul Ekman

He created an “atlas of emotions” with more than 10,000 facial expressions. His research on identifying deception and hidden demeanor is used to train law enforcement and security personnel around the world. He was even the inspiration for a television drama series. APS William James Fellow Paul Ekman reflects on his storied career in an interview for the Inside the Psychologist’s Studio video series. The interview, filmed before a live audience last May at the 2014 APS Annual Convention in San Francisco, was conducted by APS Past President Robert Levenson. In the conversation, Ekman talks about: