A CID agent interrogating a Soldier.
Part of the purpose of this blog is to stay abreast of the latest science relevant to military criminal defense.
As trial attorneys, we know that most of the evidence in a criminal trial comes from eye witness testimony. Unfortunately, it's the least reliable form of evidence. New research from The University of Warwick indicates that people will accept that a made-up event from our lives occurred if provided with self-relevant information about the fictitious event.
The study can be found here. A downloadable PDF available for free on the publisher's website is also included below. The full citation is:
Alan Svoboda, Kimberley A. Wade, D. Stephen Lindley, Tanjeem Azad, Deryn Strange, James Ost & Ira E. Hyman (2016): A mega-analysis of memory reports from eight peer-reviewed false memory implantation studies, Memory, DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2016.
In the study, researchers suggested fictitious autobiographical events to over 400 participants. Nearly half believed the events happened. Thirty percent remembered the event and elaborated on it. Over 20 percent accepted it, though they didn't remember it.
Some of the fictitious events included a hot air balloon ride as a kid, playing a prank on a teacher, and spilling a bowl of punch on the mother of a bride at a wedding.
The study has important implications for trial attorneys. The authors identify many ways that false memories can be implanted in a person. At the outset of implanting a false memory, most people deny remembering the event. People will not accept a false memory until it becomes plausible. In a law enforcement setting, there is often a real danger that questioners of an alleged victim will wittingly or unwittingly implant a false memory.
Some examples from the study include:
-Upon demand to remember, some people can create inferences that lead to imagery of events that never occurred. This is especially problematic when they are encouraged to create imagery.
-Self-generated details can lead to more false memories.
-Showing a person photographs can lead to false memories.
-Providing self-relevant information can lead to false memories.
-People are more likely to accept false memories when a coherent narrative is provided.
-People can also remember false emotional states.
According the study, the likelihood of implanting a false memory can often result from the interaction of several of the above tactics.
It's an interesting study for the defense attorney preparing to cross-examine government officials and others who may have tainted an alleged victim's memory.