Making Memories, One Lie at a Time


How certain are you that your memories are real? That question drives the research of Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology and law at University of California, Irvine.

Loftus has devoted her career to the study of memory: How it’s formed, how it’s stored, how it can be altered—and how it can be fabricated. And her findings might surprise anyone who’s convinced that their memories are infallible.

After receiving her Ph.D., Loftus was awarded a grant from the Department of Transportation to study car accidents. Loftus was interested in eyewitness accounts of such incidents, which often play a major role in the insurance claims process, as many of us are unlucky enough to learn at some point.

After showing volunteers videos of crashes, Loftus asked several follow-up questions and quickly learned that the phrasing of the question influenced the answer. If Loftus asked how fast the cars were going when they “hit” each other, volunteers estimated a slower speed than when they were asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other. Slower by about 7 miles an hour. Car “hit”? No big deal. Car “smash”? Crisis.

Read the whole story: Slate

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