Most individuals are very confident in the accuracy of their memories. Many witnesses
argue that they can recall events without missing one detail. However, research purports
that our memories are not as reliable as they might seem. These malleable memories can be
influenced by leading questions and creative imaginations.
Go to the Academic OneFile database in the CSU Online Library, and search for the
following article by Elizabeth Loftus (2004) on memories:
Loftus, E. (2003). Our changeable memories: Legal and social implications. Nature
Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 231-234. Retrieved from Academic OneFile database.
Read the article, and create a PowerPoint slide presentation to share your findings.
Note: Present your research using the article as well as the scientific theories covered in
this unit. Please integrate your personal opinion on this topic as well.
Your slide presentation should contain a minimum of eight slides
Accuracy of Memories
Whether memories are accurate or not has promoted conduction of various researches.
Even though, many individuals are confident in the accuracy of their memories, this confident
has been questioned through various researches, which contend that our memories are not
reliable. Therefore, this has raised the issue of malleability as many influences may cause these
memories to change. The paper seeks to explore on how memories affect the daily lives of
people such as administration of justice.
Memories are precious and people cannot d do away with them. They are integral to the
lives of people as they give people identity (Loftus, 2003, p. 231). Through memory, people are
able to share and create bonds in their families and among friends. Therefore, memories may
seem to be fixed as occasioned to certain situations and experiences that people get in. For
instance, the idea of people being or remaining accustomed to their belief system is as a result of
ACCURACY OF MEMORIES 2
memories. Peoples’ memory about an episode that happened in their past may play a
fundamental role in shaping their present and future life’s. Such beliefs that are well reserved in
the memory my remain integral in their life’s hence impacting on the way they live.
How memory may be influenced
Memory keeps on changing and is usually influenced through people imaginations,
leading questions about issues and through their recollection of things that happened to other
people (Loftus, 2003, p. 231). For instance, people may remember an event that happened to
their colleagues in the past and such events may impact on their decisions in life. This may also
alter their way of perceiving certain things.
Memories are not fixed but rather flexible because of the varying everyday experiences
that people face. These memories can be lost, created and changed over time. Memories can
either be accurate or inaccurate. It is this dynamics of trying to substantiate whether memories
are accurate or inaccurate that raises questions of validity or criminal conviction. Witnesses
memories has time in memorial been used as evidence in the courts of law to provide evidence
for the offenses. However, because of the lapses in memories, some of the people accused and
put behind bars in prisons have been found not to be offenders. This, therefore, has raised
questions of whether there is as sense of accuracy in the witness memory. Inaccurate memory
can be compelling and may appear real as an accurate memory misleading people in their
Some people have temporary memories. Such people often forget easily things that they
have encountered or experienced. However, they can remember some of the episodes if given
some time. Others have a problem of storing new things and often will forget as soon as they are
ACCURACY OF MEMORIES 3
exposed to this information. This problem is contributed by lack of attention from the individuals
or basically poor retention capabilities. Such people may not be helpful in playing the function
of a witness because; they will not be able to remember some of the details that happened as their
memory are short.
People memory can be scrambled in the process of trying to retrieve and piece together
the original memory of a certain experience ((Loftus, 2003, p. 232). Scrambled memory in most
cases, leads to conflicting narration or remembering of an event. This kind of memory is
dangerous especially to the witnesses. A witness with scrambled memory is likely to send a
person not guilty into a prison. The person may feel perfectly sure of the truth of the memory.
Therefore, this is a clear indication that memory is malleable and therefore, should not be relied
upon in making all the decisions. Scrutiny is called for especially in cases where there is
participation of the witness in the case. In USA, countless cases of convictions have been made
based on mistaken memories and therefore it raises a lot of concern to the authenticity or rather
the accuracy of the memories. For instance, it is estimated that in 1991, around 7500 people were
arrested for serious crimes and convicted falsely on false witnesses. Another case of faulty
memory was the Washington DC sniper attacks in which ten people were killed in 2002. The
witnesses claimed that they saw a white van fleeing the crime scene. Media repetitions also
enhanced this perception in the minds of people and many believed that the people from the
white car perpetrated the shootings. However, when investigation was carried out, it was
revealed that the suspects were from a blue car.
Propositional memory also called semantic memory is based on facts and underlies
general knowledge of the world. It allows people to remember things that happened in the past
such as the death of a person. Recollection memory also called episodomic memory, experiential
ACCURACY OF MEMORIES 4
direct or personal memory and is memory of episodes or experienced events such as the passing
away of a friend ten years ago. These kinds of memories are essential in enhancing
understanding how memories work.
To prove the inaccuracy of people’s memories, various researches have been conducted.
One of the investigation used photographs (Loftus, 2003, p. 232). The real photo was
manipulated in a search a way that it captured the children experiences of the subjects. The false
photo was pasted in the prototype photograph of a hot – air balloon. The family members of the
subjects confirmed that the events had never happened on the subject in their childhood. The
subjects were required to remember all things that happened in their childhood. More than 50%
of the subjects recalled clearly the events that happened in their childhood such as the fictitious
hot air balloon. This finding therefore, reveled that, people memory is malleable and can be
changed. It changes with time and at the same time, it is possible to shape the memory of
individual through the way a person behaves and in the way questions are structured.
Expression of memories in terms of confidence, vividness and amount of detail provided
can be used to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of someone’s memory. For instance, a
person saying the reality or a person that is certain and sure about certain experience is deemed
to have more confidence and is likely to express it vividly as opposed to that not sure or unable
to recollect their memory. For example, an individual that witnessed his friend being killed is
likely to be confidence in expressing this as opposed to someone that did not experience such
incidence. However, it is also important to note that, some of the memories may be inaccurate
but may be expressed with higher level of confidence and vividness. Being able to differentiate
that that is accurate and inaccurate is the challenge that needs to be identified and approached
ACCURACY OF MEMORIES 5
People real behaviors varies from one person to another because of various reasons, one
of this is stress. During such circumstances, people tend to miss important information in their
environment. This explains why a person is not likely to remember an assailment because, the
person might have focused more on the weapon as posed to the person. A sense of time is also
another factor. As time passes by people memories, get hazy and distorted causing people to
have problems in their memories and in the remembering issues. Power of suggestion also
influences the memory of human beings. Suggestive techniques that some of the psychotherapist
use may lead to distortion of memories of individuals. Suggestive expressions lead patients to
false beliefs and memories that caused have consequences to both the patient and those people
accused (Loftus, 2003, p. 233). An example of suggestive expressions is, “you do not remember
physical abuse, but you have the symptoms, so must imagine who may be behind this”. Such
expressions may mislead the memories of the witness leading to false accusation. The best
strategy to ensure that cases of memory contamination are reduced is allowing the witnesses to
write down what they remember from the episode before talking to any person. This will help
them to provide sufficient and up to date information pertaining to the experience or events that
they saw or experienced.
Memory failure/distortion is also likely to lead to failure to convict a guilty person
especially if their stories conflicts with that of other people. Therefore, through scientific
research, such problems can be managed or minimized. People or leaders should be made not to
make decisions based on their myths and misconceptions about memory but rather such
knowledge should be shared among the relevant individuals and acted upon diligently. To ensure
that this is achieved, there is need for intensive education campaigns to sensitize people on the
different kinds of memory. Convicted people should access DNA testing to ensure that they are
ACCURACY OF MEMORIES 6
not convicted based on false witnesses (Loftus, 2003, p. 234). Furthermore, courts cases should
be presided over by qualified and quality lawyers who will have to analyze witnesses in their
cases. This will help to reduce cases of false witnesses and would ensure that justice is attained.
Therefore, in conclusion, it is evidence that memory is prone to errors as many people may think.
People memory can be infused with compelling illusory memories on important things in their
lives. This inaccuracy in memory has caused many injustices to many people. Therefore, it is
appropriate that such injustices are avoided and if not possible minimized to assure all the
people that they can get justice.
Loftus, E. (2003). Our changeable memories: Legal and social implications, Nature Reviews
Neuroscience, 4, 231-234.
Perspectives about memory
Integral to people’s lives
How memories are influenced
Recollection of things happened
Types of memories
People easily forget
Cannot retain information for long due to:
Low retention ability
Lack of attention
It leas to conflict and confusion especially in criminal cases
Such witness may not provide a clear evidence
A person feels perfectly sure of what is saying: trusts the
Leads to mistaken conviction
Example of cases of mistaken identity
1991 arrest of 7500 people in US. The people were convicted
based on false witness
Sniper attacks in Washington were ten people were shoot.
In accuracy experiment
Photography experiment roved this
Subjects gave different versions of the story after exposure to the
The experiment proved inaccuracies in memories
These inaccuracies are caused by:
Changes in time
Structure of question
Malleability of peoples’ memory
Factors that determine accuracy and
inaccuracy of memory when expressing
Level of confidence of a person
Vividness of expression
Why people behavior /memories
Power of suggestion
Solution to justice / alleviating the
problem of false witness brought by
Educating people about memories
Using alternative ways such as DNA testing
Using quality lawyer
Loftus, E. (2003). Our changeable memories: Legal
and social implications, Nature Reviews
Neuroscience, 4, 231-234.