Posted Thursday, June 3, 2010, at 9:33 AM
Do you trust your memories? Would you send a defendant to jail based on the recollection of a single witness? If an adult woman suddenly remembered her father molesting her 20 years earlier, would you believe it?
These are some of the questions raised in Slate 's eight-part series, The Memory Doctor . The series focuses on Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who has challenged the reliability of eyewitness testimony and recovered memories of sexual abuse. From the introduction:
Loftus set out to prove that such memories could have been planted. To do so, she had to replicate the process. She had to make people remember, as sincerely and convincingly as any sworn witness, things that had never happened. And she succeeded. Her experiments shattered the legal system's credulity. Thanks to her ingenuity and persistence, the witch hunts of the recovered-memory era subsided.
But the experiments didn't stop. Loftus and her collaborators had become experts at planting memories. Couldn't they do something good with that power? So they began to practice deception for real. With a simple autobiographical tweak—altering people's recollections of childhood eating experiences—they embarked on a new project: making the world healthier and happier.