Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus

The psychologist Elizabeth

The following lesson will discuss memory and the information discovered by one of the foremost researchers in the field, Elizabeth Loftus. She is known for her work on understanding how memories are created.

Elizabeth Loftus - The Psychologist

Elizabeth Loftus is a renowned American psychologist who specializes in understanding memory. More importantly, she focused her research and theories on the controversial idea that memories are not always accurate and the notion that repressed memories can be false memories created by the brain. This controversial theory actually stems from a traumatic event from Elizabeth's childhood.

When Elizabeth was 14, her mother drowned in the family pool. While discussing the tragedy with a family member years later, Elizabeth could not recall the events surrounding her mother's death. Her uncle suggested that perhaps Elizabeth could not remember the incident because she had been the one who had found her mother floating in the pool. After this revelation, Elizabeth began racking her brain for any memory of what had occurred. Eventually, she did recall the horrific event and began to process her emotional reactions to her mother's death. Shortly after uncovering these memories and coming to peace with the death, Loftus's uncle contacted her to say that he had been incorrect and that it was actually her aunt who had found Elizabeth's mother drowned in the pool.

The Theory

After this disturbing situation, Elizabeth came to the realization that memories are not always accurate and that the human brain is highly vulnerable to suggestion. In other words, your brain can make up memories to fill in gaps of information that is unknown. Her theory added to the debate about the topic of repressed memories. Repressed memories are memories that are pushed away from regular awareness and then come into regular thought years later. Elizabeth suggested that perhaps repressed memories are not memories of actual events, but rather ideas that are created from a combination of waking and dreaming situations.

Experiments

Aside from her own personal experience of false repressed memories, Elizabeth conducted ground-breaking experiments to demonstrate just how easily manipulated our memories can be. One of her more commonly known experiments is the lost-in-a-mall study. Within this study, Elizabeth and her team asked children to recall the time they were lost in a shopping mall. With suggestions and relevant questions, the child participants were able to recreate a very vibrant and vivid memory that depicted that scenario. The problem is-it never happened.

The lost-in-a-mall study demonstrated that the brain will attempt to fill in the gaps in information that is missing. For example, imagine that you are chatting with your mother and she brings up a birthday party from your childhood that you cannot remember for the life of you. You tell her you don't remember and she starts providing details about the clown, the friends there, and the birthday gifts. After a period of time, the more you think about it, the more likely you are going to cultivate a memory from those tidbits that you genuinely believe happened.

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