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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories are fragile things, 15 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Eyewitness Testimony (Paperback)
Over a long career, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has investigated memory, a subject that should be of interest to virtually everyone, or at least to anyone who has ever remembered or reflected upon any aspect of their past experiences. Her research into how memories are formed - and how they can be corrupted - has resulted in many surprising and important discoveries that should be more widely known. She is also one of those scientists who can write about her own and others' work in an engaging and accessible way for a lay audience. In this fascinating book, she begins by revealing "a long-standing concern with cases in which an innocent person has been falsely identified, convicted, and even jailed." How can such miscarriages occur? In part, they happen because eyewitness testimony is "among the most damning of all evidence that can be used in a court of law" - and yet, while often convincing, our memories are not always accurate. In short, the "unreliability of eyewitness identification evidence poses one of the most serious problems in the administration of criminal justice and civil litigation."

This concern with the legal system points up the twin themes of the book: Loftus gives an account of "the field of experimental psychology with the purpose of providing a theoretical framework in which a diverse collection of empirical findings are integrated" and she also attempts "to say how this body of research should be fitted into society as a whole, and into the legal system in particular."

One crucial empirical finding is that memory does not work like a videotape recorder. We don't passively take in information. Rather, we "take in information in bits and pieces, from different sources, at different times, and integrate this information together." There's a sense in which we actually construct memories. This raises questions about just what these sources can be if they are not to do with the event being remembered, and the vulnerability of memory to being changed in the interval between the event and the act of remembering. Indeed, Loftus describes how new "information" can invade us, like a Trojan horse, precisely because we do not detect its influence. Such "postevent information often becomes incorporated into memory, supplementing and altering a person's recollection." We can be tricked by revised data about a past experience, and this is central to understanding "the reconstructive nature of memory."

For example, in one experiment witnesses of an automobile accident who were queried with the verb "smashed" were substantially more likely to erroneously report (that is, to remember) the presence of broken glass than were subjects originally queried with the verb "hit". The wording of a question about an event can influence the answer given. The line "between valid retrieval and unconscious fabrication is easily crossed" and so investigators must be careful in their use of language and sensitive to the innumerable different ways in which a witness's answers can be influenced. The legal system has recognized this in part, for example, with its concept of a leading question.

In place of the simple idea of a memory as a once-only recording of an event is a three-stage analysis comprising acquisition, retention and retrieval ("virtually universally accepted among psychologists"). It's therefore not surprising that our memories are fragile things, and it's "important to realize how easily information can be introduced into memory, to understand why this happens, and avoid it when it is undesirable." The "commonly held belief that information, once acquired by the memory system, is unchangeable, and that errors in memory result either from an inability to find stored information... or from errors made during the original perception of the event" must be revised in light of the research findings of Elizabeth Loftus and others. This new understanding of memory is not only valuable as part of our scientific understanding of how the mind works; it is also vital in making sure that justice is done.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good, 11 Jan 2011
This review is from: Eyewitness Testimony (Paperback)
Book is very interesting. I used it for a univerity assignment on eyewitness testimony and it came in very handy!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book for research, 7 Aug 2010
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This review is from: Eyewitness Testimony (Paperback)
I used this book for an essay about eyewitness evidence. This book is really very good for research like this psychology or otherwise. Def recommend it it is such an interesting read and subject.
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Eyewitness Testimony
Eyewitness Testimony by Elizabeth F Loftus (Paperback - 1 April 1996)
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