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False Memories and Suggestibility: How They Can Affect You

By March 17, 2015May 28th, 2020No Comments

Recently, NBC News anchor Brian Williams came under criticism for claiming to be on board a helicopter that was shot down. The problem is that Mr. Williams was not on a helicopter that was shot down. Mr. Williams has blamed his version of events on “the fog of memory,” but many people do not believe one’s memory could be that misleading. However, Brian Williams is not the first person to have a false or inaccurate memory and there are other examples of public figures also suffering from false or inaccurate memories. For example, Hillary Rodham Clinton previously claimed to have been under sniper fire while landing in Bosnia, only later to admit that she “misspoke” about the event.

So is it actually possible for someone to have a false or misleading memory? Scientists and researchers who study memory assert that false memories are common and that no one is immune from susceptibility to false memories.

The occurrence of false memories can be difficult for someone to understand. How can someone remember events or other details that never happened? This skepticism is especially relevant in instances where someone is perceived to have no motivation to lie or to provide misleading information. This is because people have thought of memory like a recording device that records and stores memories exactly as they occur, and that your memories can be retrieved when prompted. However, this has been shown to be inaccurate. Memory recall is not simply retrieval. Memory is malleable and is actually a constructive process where aspects of the content of previously presented material are woven into a coherent whole with the aid of preexisting knowledge. Thus, people are susceptible to altered memories, and even false memories.

In 2010, Slate.com published a piece titled “The Memory Doctor,” about an experiment they did regarding memory by using images of altered or fabricated events along with real ones. The findings revealed that the fabricated or altered images were effective in providing the subjects with false memories.

False memories are especially alarming in cases involving criminal allegations such as criminal sexual conduct and sexual abuse. Research suggests that if someone is exposed to false or mis-information about an event, it is possible for his or her memory to be altered or even for him or her to remember a completely false memory.

Smith Blythe, PC is knowledgeable in the area of false memories and how memory can influence and impact allegations of criminal sexual conduct and sexual abuse. Issues of suggestibility are often involved in sex crime allegations. Often times, individuals who make allegations of sexual abuse are subject to several interviews and questioning from family members, police, and others. It is critical that you have an attorney skilled in evaluating memory testimony and that they understand how the way questions are asked and an interviewer’s reactions can shape memories of past events or even create a false memory. Contact the Law Office of Shannon M. Smith, PC to discuss how we can use our knowledge and skill to assist in your defense.

Author Shannon Smith

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