How the malleability of memory impacts everything, from crime to families

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Memories constantly change. They expand, shrink, and expand again. Our memories can also be manipulated and altered by suggestion. Illustration by GoodStudio/Shutterstock.

How can we be sure things actually happened the way we remember them? For example, why do siblings remember the same past events differently? This question has resulted in a lifetime career for Elizabeth Loftus, professor of law and psychology and UC Irvine. Her decades of research show that when we remember things, we're actually constructing or reconstructing an experience 

Loftus is also famous for her study on planting false memories. She firmly maintains that our memories can be altered by suggestion, and since they’re flawed, they can be controlled and manipulated. This also leads to controversy when it comes to law. Most recently, Loftus found herself in a dilemma: whether to ignore her decades of research or serve as an expert witness on behalf of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with Loftus about that decision, her life and work, and why she believes uncritical acceptance of every memory claim is harmful to our society.


“With a research background in memory, and an interest in legal matters, the memory of eyewitnesses to crimes and accidents was a natural place to go,” says UC Irvine Professor of Law and Psychology Elizabeth Loftus. Photo by Mimi Cruz

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Guest:

Producer:

Andrea Brody