Describe a disagreement that you’ve had with someone about an incident that involved memory

Mini-lecture: Repressed Memory

Here is a true story that highlights the unreliability of our memories.  Some of you may remember hearing snatches of this story when you were growing up; it happened in Foster City.

Many years ago, Eileen Franklin’s 8-y.o. best friend Susan went missing. Eileen was apparently upset by the incident and soon began pulling her hair out in one spot – so severely that her scalp started to bleed.

Susan’s body was found several months later; she had been raped and someone bashed her head in with a rock.  The murderer-rapist was never found.

About 20 years later, Eileen was married and was raising her own 8 y.o. daughter.  One day, she got angry at her daughter and scolded her harshly.  The expression on Eileen’s daughter’s face was one of fear. When Eileen saw her daughter’s face, she suddenly had a flashback of her best friend Susan’s face: her daughter’s expression was the same expression of fear that had been on Susan’s face when Eileen’s father was raping her. Eileen suddenly remembered having witnessed the crime – it was her own father who had raped and killed her best friend.

Eileen went to the police with the memory, hoping that she could help bring the murderer to justice.  The district attorney wasn’t sure he could convict someone on the basis of a repressed memory – especially one that had been hidden away for 20 years – was repressed memory even a real phenomenon?

They decided to go for it, with Eileen as their only witness.  The defense attorney brought in Elizabeth Loftus, whose name you should recognize as the big mucky-muck researcher who studies constructive memory.  Loftus testified as an expert witness that it was easy for people to “construct” memories, thinking that they actually saw something happen, when if fact, they may have read about it, or heard about it, or imagined it – and what they read, heard, or imagined became a part of their memories.  Constructed memories are not lies – they are experienced as truth, but they actually never happened.

The prosecution also brought in an expert witness: Lenore Terr, who was an expert on trauma memory. Terr had interviewed children who had been in a school bus when it was hijacked; the driver and children were taken to a quarry in Livermore.  At the quarry, the driver and the children were loaded into a moving van that was buried in the dirt; the van was then sealed and covered with more dirt. (the Chowchilla kidnappings (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. 1976).

The children were rescued but they suffered from trauma. When Terr studied their reactions, she found two main characteristics:

a) the children weren’t good at remembering the details of the event but they remembered the event itself (they knew 3 guys had guns, but they couldn’t remember what color their shirts were; they knew that a car had blocked the road and the men came out with guns, but they couldn’t remember what kind of car); and

b) the children needed to express the trauma by replaying the trauma: at recess, the kids would run to the sandbox and bury cars; during art, they would draw pictures of men pointing guns at crying children.

The turning point in the case occurred when prosecutors had Eileen testify.  Remember that Eileen had begin pulling out her hair soon after her friend disappeared? It turns out that Eileen had created a bloody mess on her scalp similar to the injury that they found on her dead friend’s battered head several months later. The prosecution posited that Eileen had re-created the injury that she had witnessed when Susan had been killed by the blow to the head: by pulling her hair out even before Susan’s body was found, Eileen was replaying the trauma she had experienced.  Before there were any newspapers to read or before she could overhear people talking about the details, Eileen had seen the blow that killed her friend: she had been there – she had witnessed the crime and was “showing” everyone the bloody injury on her own head.

Based on Eileen’s testimony, her father was convicted.

Several months later, Eileen had another memory surface about another unsolved rape/murder in the area; she again implicated her father.  For this crime, however, Eileen’s father had an airtight alibi – it was not his DNA.  Eileen’s father was released from jail because of the unreliability of Eileen’s memory.

A few years later, Eileen’s mother took the position that Eileen had wrongfully accused her father (Eileen’s mother’s ex-husband) of the crime: Eileen’s mother stated that she had no recollection of Eileen having pulled her hair out to create the bloody injury that Eileen had supposedly witnessed.



Memory Errors

I like to think that I have a pretty good memory and (before I understood memory), I would spend countless opportunities arguing with friends and family about how the other person’s memory was wrong, and my own memory of the same incident was right. I suspect you have done the same. In reading the modules, I hope you are starting to realize that our memories are more fallible than we like to admit.

Describe a disagreement that you’ve had with someone about an incident that involved memory (5 pts).

Using the research on Memory Construction Errors*, choose 1 way that would explain why YOUR memory of the incident MIGHT be wrong (you are not admitting that your memory is wrong – you are merely speculating on how your memory might be wrong). ink

In discussing your chosen memory construction error, be sure to

· (4 pts) describe/explain the construction error; discuss how the construction error reflects the memory incident you have described above AND

· (3 pts) describe one study that shows the error in action

If you’ve never argued or disagreed with someone about a memory (!), describe a case in the news that has relied on eyewitness memory and apply the forum assignment to this case.

Let the confessions begin!


*Memory Construction errors are not the same as processing errors or forgetting: there are only 3 kinds that you should be writing about: source amnesia, misinformation, or imagination.  Be sure you are writing about the correct information

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