Elizabeth Loftus memory

Elizabeth loftus experiments

Copyright 1996 Sussex Publishers Inc.
SECTION: Vol. 29 ; No. 1 ; Pg. 48; ISSN: 0033-3107, LENGTH: 5035 words by
Jill Neimark

She has been called a whore by a prosecutor in a courthouse hallway, assaulted by a passenger on an airplane shouting, "You're that woman!", and has occasionally required surveillance by plainclothes security guards at lectures. The war over memory is one of the great and perturbing stories of our time, and Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on memory's malleability, stands at the highly charged center of it.

Even in her field, opinion is divided between fury and admiration. "I have nothing good to say about Elizabetb Loftus, " says Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., a psychiatrist at Harvard, who is an expert in dissociative disorders. "I have only the highest regard for Elizabeth Loftus's work, " states Frederick Crews, former chair of the English department at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the most widely debated and discussed series of cover stories the New York Review of Books has ever published on the recovered-memory movement.

Loftus has spent most of her life steadily amassing a clear and brilliant body of work showing that memory is amazingly fragile and inventive. Her studies on more than 20, 000 subjects are classics that have toppled some of our most cherished beliefs. She has shown that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, that false memories can be triggered in up to 25 percent of individuals merely by suggestion, and that memory can be interfered with and altered by simply giving incorrect post-event information.

Because her work raises doubt about the validity of long-buried memories of repeated trauma in particular-though it in no way disproves them-she has found herself asked to testify in some of the more famous trials of our time. In fact, Loftus has been called as an expert witness in more than 200 trials, from that of mass murderer Ted Bundy to accused child-killer George Franklin; has appeared on countless talk and news shows, from 60 Minutes to Oprah; has published 19 books and innumerable papers; and in 1995 received the Distinguished Contribution Award from the American Academy of Forensic Psychology.

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