False Memories Creating False Criminals, with Dr. Julia Shaw

March 2, 2015

Host: Lindsay Beyerstein

Memory is remarkably fallible, as we often frustrate ourselves with how certain we are about where we left our car keys only to realize how entirely wrong we were. But could it be that our memories are so easily corrupted that we could be led to believe we’ve committed crimes that never happened? (And while we’re at it, could Brian Williams have sincerely believed that he had been under attack in that helicopter?)

This week on Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to Dr. Julia Shaw, a forensic psychology lecturer and false memory researcher. Dr. Shaw recently conducted a study in which she found that 70 percent of college-age students were convinced that they had committed a crime that never actually took place. By mixing actual facts with misinformation, in as little as 3 hours of friendly conversation, students not only admitted to committing these fictional crimes, they went as far as to recall details of their manufactured experience. Shaw suggests that these results have alarming implications for the way we conduct criminal investigations. It seems as though our own imaginations may be working against us more than we ever thought possible.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Abstract of Shaw's paper, "Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime"
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