On Tuesday 10 September 2013, the La Trobe University School of Psychological Science welcomed Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California Irvine, who gave a fascinating and thought-provoking lecture to alumni, students, staff and guests of the University.
Speaking at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, Professor Loftus gave her lecture entitled Illlusions of Memory. The lecture was based on the outcomes of her many years of research work which now underpins current US law reform on eye witness testimony. Professor Loftus spoke about how memories can be distorted by other ideas and suggestions.
‘We can, through suggestion, create entire memories in the minds of people for things that never happened,’ she says. ‘This can have significant implications for witnesses.’
An article in the 15 August issue of the leading science journal Nature says that in a career spanning four decades, Professor Loftus, ‘has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory in experimental settings’.
‘And she has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases… informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events.’
The article says the now 68-year-old scientist’s research is starting to bring about lasting changes in the legal system.
‘In July last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling – based largely on her findings – that jurors should be alerted to the imperfect nature of memory and the fallibility of eyewitness testimony as standard procedure. Loftus is working with judges in other states to make such changes more widespread.’
Damien Carrick, presenter of ABC Radio National's Law Report on September 24. Visit the Law Report website