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Remember the “false memories” controversy?

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In the 1980’s, some people’s lives were wrecked by false accusations made by children, people under hypnosis, etc., based on theories like “children don’t lie” or “therapy techniques can reveal truth.” Such theories were impervious to the middle ground approach: People may not be lying but that does not mean that the statements they are making are records of fact on which we should base our actions.

From Julia Shaw’s guest blog at Scientific American:

Just because you’re absolutely confident you remember something accurately doesn’t mean it’s true

She quotes Elizabeth Loftus, a false memory researcher who played a key role in ending the late twentieth century witch hunt.

According to Loftus: “The one take home message that I have tried to convey in my writings, and classes, and in my TED talk is this: Just because someone tells you something with a lot of confidence and detail and emotion, it doesn’t mean it actually happened. You need independent corroboration to know whether you’re dealing with an authentic memory, or something that is a product of some other process.” More.

Shaw’s new book is The Memory Illusion. One somehow doubts that memory is an illusion. It is more like the first draft, subject to much alteration later.

See also: Brain’s memory rivals that of Web, petabyte range?

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