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The Impact Of False Recall On Eyewitness Accounts

The Impact Of False Recall On Eyewitness Accounts

Research showing that memories can often be manipulated and falsified when people discuss their experiences has earned a Victoria University PhD student a prize at the MacDiarmid Young Scientists of the Year Awards last night (14 August).

PhD psychology student Lauren French says her research could have an impact within the justice system that relies on accurate eyewitness recall.

Ms French has been named runner up in the 'Science and Our Society' category of the MacDiarmid Awards, presented annually by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Ms French's research tested whether people’s memories change eyewitness reports when the people are exposed to false information via a discussion with others who have supposedly experienced the same event.

To do so, Ms French collaborated with researchers in Japan, using polarisation filter techniques that enable two people to watch what they believe to be the same movie but that is actually two movies with different detail. The partners then discussed their recall of the movies.

The tests show that people can be influenced to remember details from their partner’s movie version. This led Ms French to the conclusion that discussion can result in false memories and that by talking about an event, witnesses might unwittingly change each other’s memories resulting in reports of things that did not happen or that they did not see.

Ms French's research also shows people are more likely to remember false information if it is suggested by their romantic partner or someone they trust or consider highly credible.

Her supervisor Dr Maryanne Garry says this is internationally groundbreaking research of great relevance. "Conversation has many functions and people rarely consider the consequences of discussion on their memories, especially not in relation to eyewitness accounts or how their discussions might lead to wrongful convictions."

Ms French, who will complete her PhD this year, says she originally planned to study law at university but switched her focus after being intrigued to discover during psychology lectures that memories could be false.


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