Evaluating Elizabeth Loftus’ Research Into Eye Witness Testimony

The three questions are

To which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?

Why has this research caused controversy?

How could neuroscience improve eye witness testimony?

In order to answer these questions, you need to go to the Dropbox or iTunesU folder for PSYA1. The files you need are

Elizabeth Loftus-2013 – her TED lecture

Loftus Mindchangers

How Neuroscience Could Improve Eye Witness Testimony

Alternatively, click on the hyperlinks to find the files you need.

Post your answers here or send me an email so I can upload them.

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13 comments

  1. Here’s Chloe’s response.
    To which cases and problems has Elizabeth Loftus applied her research?
    Elizabeth Loftus has applied her research to cases in court involving false memories. For example, a case which she spent a long time working on is the case of Steve Titus. He was wrongly accused of raping a female hitchhiker after the victim stated that he was the man in the photo line-up who most closely resembled the real rapist. He was convicted and went to jail before later dying of a stress related heart attack due to the trauma he was forced to endure. Elizabeth Loftus worked with Steve Titus and many other innocent individuals who have been wrongly convicted of crimes. She has studied how the memories of eyewitnesses in court can be easily changed and manipulated after being exposed to false information through misleading questions and being able to confer with other witnesses. Her research has had a huge impact on how eyewitnesses in court now provide their evidence to make sure that the system is as accurate in identifying criminals as possible.
    She has also applied her research to problems, especially in the 1990s, involving psychotherapy. Patients were entering therapy sessions with one problem and leaving with a different completely unrelated problem. In many cases patients came out psychologically scarred with detailed bizarre memories which they did not have before the therapy. Loftus studied the cause of these weird memories and discovered that they were being planted in patient’s minds through sessions like hypnosis and dream interpretations where patients were often being exposed to false information. Her research therefore helped to improve the way in which psychotherapy was being conducted in order to prevent these strange side effects from occurring.
    Why has her research caused controversy?
    In some cases carried out by Elizabeth Loftus researchers have planted stressful false memories in patient’s minds. For example, in a study in Tennessee researchers planted the memory that as a child the patients had nearly drowned and had to be rescued by a lifeguard. In another case in Canada the memory of being attacked by a vicious animal was planted into participant’s minds. The treatment worked with 50% of patients who were successfully convinced that the false memory had actually happened. Some people strongly disagree with these type of studies and believe they are unethical due to the trauma it can cause to patients. There are also worries about whether these false memories can have effects and repercussions on a patient’s behaviour in the long term. In response to these worries, psychologists like Elizabeth Loftus believe that the temporary uncomfort experienced by patients is outweighed by the scientific knowledge gained through these experiments.
    In other cases Loftus’s research has been controversial due to invasion of privacy. For example in one particular case a daughter claimed that her mother had sexually abused her based on a repressed memory. Loftus investigated the case as she believed the memories to be false and that the mother was innocent. She published a report on the case and was later sued by the daughter as she felt that Loftus had invaded her privacy. However if Loftus had not carried out the study then the Mother would have been wrongly and unfairly convicted so her research was in fact essential to discover the truth of the case.
    How could neuroscience improve eye witness testimonies?
    With the advancements of modern technology scientists think that neuroscience can be used to decode an eyewitness’s memory to tell if they have seen a potential criminal’s face before. Using specialist scanners, scientists can look at patterns of activity through the brain while a person is viewing pictures of suspect’s faces. When a person consciously recognises a face a particular pattern in the brain shows up on the scan. The procedure is not entirely reliable and will need to be improved before it can be introduced into the criminal justice system. However in the future neuroscience may be able to be used to ensure that people are not wrongly convicted of crimes.

    Loads of detail here. The issue for me is whether Loftus’ research is totally convincing. Chloe seems to be on Loftus’ side here. What does anyone else think?

  2. 1. Loftus has applied her research to several different cases and problems, for example, when looking at Semantic memory she found that certain words could contaminate memory, by showing people a simulated accident and asking misleading questions to see whether or not certain words may encourage certain answers. Following her findings, her research has been applied to the way in which the police question suspects. The Cognitive interview has been formed, one which includes a specific sequence of questions to ensure misleading questions are avoided. As well as this, her research has also been applied to improve the way in which psychotherapy is carried out as there have been cases in which patients have entered psychotherapy sessions with one problem but left with another, which is completely unrelated, due to false memories being accidentally planted by a variety of techniques, including hypnosis.

    2. Loftus’ research has caused controversy because some people do not agree with the temporary discomfort that participants experience, whilst under the influence of a false, planted memory. They believe it to be cruel, however the experiments the Loftus has conducted have all been approved because the temporary suffering is far outweighed by the pros of the experiments.

    3. It has been disputed as to whether or not Neuroscience can improve EWT. Scientists can view, using specialist patterns, the activity of the brain when a participant is being tested upon. It is believed that our brain’s might remember something that we cannot and Neuroscience could determine the likelihood of whether or not the witness has seen the face of the suspect or someone that merely resembles them.

  3. Here’s a comment from Katie S
    To which cases and problems has Elizabeth Loftus applied her research?
    Loftus had applied her research to the problem of innocent people being convicted of crimes due to inaccurate eye witness testimonies. More specifically, Loftus worked in the case of Steve Titus, a man who was wrongly accused and convicted of rape due to an inaccurate eye witness testimony. This resulted in him being jailed, losing his job and fiancée and eventually dying of a stress-related heart attack. To solve this problem, Loftus conducted experiments to discover the accuracy of recalled information when misleading information were used by showing participants slides of incidents and asking them questions about it. She found that when misleading questions were used, the witnesses account was more likely to be inaccurate. Personally, I think the problem with this is that the majority of these experiments were conducted in a laboratory; human behaviour may differ in a lab environment due to the awareness that nothing dangerous is actually going to happen in real life.

    Why has her research caused controversy?

    Openly discussing sensitive topics can automatically be seen as controversial. However, there were two main occasions Loftus was seen as most controversial. The first being when Loftus accused a mother who allegedly sexually abused her daughter to be innocent, despite the daughter’s clear accusations based on memory. Sexual abuse is a very sensitive topic, so to make the daughter seem like a liar to people who don’t understand that memories can be false, this was potentially damaging to the daughter and very controversial. On the other occasion, Loftus suggested that as it would be unethical to plant a memory into a child, parents with overweight children should do it so they’d eat healthier. Clearly this statement could have been interpreted several different ways as it seems quite an insensitive thing to say, so it obviously caused anger and outcry. Encouraging parents to lie to their children could certainly be seen as controversial, but as Loftus pointed out; parents already lie about such things like Santa and the Easter Bunny. Lying on this occasion could actually improve the childs health, which could be more beneficial than lying about the existence of Santa.

    How could Neuroscience improve eye witness testimonies?

    Despite the recent discoveries of how neuroscience can be used in eye witness testimonies, it is clear improvement is still needed for the designed procedure. The procedure is designed to decode a persons memory to tell if they have seen a criminals face before- what if they have seen someone else beforehand who looks similar to the criminal and make this link; would this cause a person to feel familiarity towards a persons face they have never seen before if they have seen another face that is similar? Could this be mistaken for a person recognising the actual criminal? If mistakes like these were made impossible whilst using the neuroscience procedure, I think this could be an amazingly reliable way of proving eye witness testimonies to be accurate, and could prevent future innocent people from being wrongly convicted.

  4. And here’s one from Seren
    Elizabeth Loftus and Neuroscience

    Elizabeth Loftus speaks of Steve Titus, a 31 year old engaged man from Washington falsely accused of raping a female hitchhiker; after the police pulled over Titus on the night of the incident, they took a photo of him, to which the rape victim replied “that one’s the closest”, to which she significantly adjusted later on in court, saying “I’m absolutely positive, that’s the man.” Despite his claims of innocence and the distress of his family and fiancé (who actually collapsed), Titus was convicted and sentenced in prison. During his stay in prison, he sparked the interest of an investigative journalist who actually found the real rapist, who ultimately confessed to this rape and was later suspected of another 50 rapes in the area.

    Instead of Titus forgetting and getting over the events, which would have been much more beneficial to him, he’d (understandably) left prison extremely sour after losing his job, savings and fiancé, he filed a lawsuit to claim justice for what had happened to him; just days before his day in court, he died of a stress related heart attack at 35 years old.

    Loftus speaks of how she studies how people remember things how they didn’t happen, or were different from how they were; false memories.

    She speaks of how 300 innocent people in the US have been convicted of crimes they didn’t do, spending 10, 20, 30 years in prison for crimes they haven’t committed, ¾ of these people being convicted due to faulty memory. Loftus says that memory is not a recording; it’s a reconstructive process like a Wikipedia page, able to be changed by anyone, including yourself and others. She speaks of a study she did asking participants how fast the cars “hit/smashed” into each other in a simulated car accident, leading to those being asked with the word “smashed” answering with a larger number, and claiming to have seen “broken glass” when there was none. This was the same with the STOP/YIELD sign experiment we have investigated in class.

    Loftus, more controversially, speaks of how she conducted a study where US military soldiers undergo, consensually, a study which simulates what it would be like if they were captured as prisoners of war, undergoing extremely stressful, aggressive, hostile and physically abusive conditions for 30 minutes, later on identifying the person that conducted that interrogation. When asked a misleading question, the soldiers will identify the person who doesn’t even remotely look like the actual perpetrator. She says that inducing misinformation can distort memories, and in the real world, misinformation is everywhere, making the memory unreliable and false if contaminated.

    She then speaks of how people go into therapy with one problem like depression or an eating disorder, and coming out with disturbing, out of the ordinary and certainly out of the blue memories of satanic rituals, of babies being cut from bellies with no actual physical evidence – Loftus then looked into this, wondering how did these people get these bizarre memories, concluding that it was a result of psychotherapy, where imagination, dream interpretation, hypnosis and false information lead to these false memories.

    In her study, she attempted to plant a false memory in participant’s minds, where they were lost in a shopping mall at the age of 5 or 6, and were rescued by an elderly person and reunited with family later on, to reach a 25% success rate. She says that other psychologists have done these studies more brutally, with dog attacks, and satanic rituals and reached a 50% success rate. Loftus investigated these false stories and produced an exposé, for which she was sued in a lawsuit for nearly 5 years, saying that she was part of an unfortunate epidemic of scientists being sued.

    She concludes that memories are never, ever reliable, and can never be relied upon, and that this is proven with Steve Titus’ case. Memories, like liberty, are fragile.

    Loftus’ experiments have reached great controversy due to many reasons; one being the highly distressing conditions participants, although willingly, are put in. Like the experiment with the soldiers, many of her studies are high anxiety, which can make people question whether or not her “torturing” of participants was worth it in the name of science. Again, with the case of the daughter claiming to have been sexually abused by her mother, Loftus had been seen as incredibly controversial by not only invading the privacy of the child, but challenging their case and claiming it to be false. Whilst it did protect the reputation of the mother, and compellingly display that memory is unreliable, it was incredibly controversial and powerful in negative ways, due to her involvement in the case and complete and utter intrusion of privacy.

    I think that Loftus’ work is powerful and compelling in portraying that memory is unreliable and a matter of reconstruction, with her involvement in Steve Titus’ case, however I also believe that the intensive conditions she puts participants in is questionable, and her involvement in such a case to be slightly dramatic, however the outcome in the case was a positive one, therefore I am in two minds about it.

    Neuroscience could improve memory; this is when someone spends 2 hours in a brain scanner, looking upon images which will determine whether she recognises a face or if it is completely new; she is shown the image for 2 seconds, and then 8 seconds to determine whether she knows the person or whether it is someone knew. These brain patterns will show up on the scan. They then try to trick the scanner by telling the participant to, if seeing a person she recognises, focus on the facial features rather than a face as a whole to stop patterns of recognition, and if seeing someone she doesn’t know, try to relate the face to someone it looks like, to try to induce patterns of recognition. They argue that it can be incredibly useful in eye witness testimony and could have a place in the justice system, however will need to be refined due to it being premature.

  5. One from Freya

    1. Loftus has been able to apply her research about false memories to many different situations. One of the case studies that she studied was that of Steve Titus: a 31 year old from Washington. In October 1980, Titus was arrested for the rape of a female hitch-hiker due to him having a vague resemblance to the woman’s description of the rapist. When shown a picture of Titus in a line up of men’s photos, the victim told the police officers that Titus was “the closest”. However, when asked in court if Titus was the man who had raped her, she replied “I am absolutely positive that he’s the one”. This false accusation led to the conviction of Titus for a crime that he did not commit. Eventually, an investigative journalist proved Titus’s innocence and the real rapist was found and convicted. However, it had come too late. Titus had lost his fiancée and his job and wanted compensation. Just days before his day in court against the judicial system, Titus died of a stress-related heart attack at the age of 35. Through further research of this case along with several others like it, Loftus has successfully changed the treatment of eye witnesses in court proceedings. She has also used her research to change many psychotherapy methods. She noticed that many psychotherapy patients were leaving their sessions with a different, unrelated problem than they had started with. She found that this was due to them being exposed to too much false information.

    2. Loftus’s research has come under scrutiny several times. One example of this is when Loftus has experimented by planting false memories into participants’s heads. This was successfully done in one experiment in Canada when the memory of being attacked by a vicious animal was successfully planted into some people’s minds. Many people argue against this type of experiment, claiming that the levels of stress that this can cause to participants is unethical. There was also a case when Loftus accused a mother who had allegedly sexually abused her daughter of being innocent. The daughter claimed that this was an invasion of privacy and thus filed a law suit against her, however it had saved the reputation of the mother after Loftus proved her innocent. Not all people believe Loftus’s research to be completely convincing and therefore it is quite a matter of opinion. I personally believe that whilst Loftus’s research has changed the treatment of eye witness’s for the better, I do not agree with the stress that participants can be put under as it is unethical.

    3. Neuroscience could be used to improve eye witness testimony. Eye witness’s could be put into a brain scanner for 2 hours and shown a selection of pictures. When a person recognises something (like a person’s face) the brain scanner shows a certain pattern of brain activity. They then ask the participant to try and focus on a single feature of the face rather than the face as a whole and then try and see if they can match it to someone that they recognise. This tests the brain scanner to see if the participant really can recognise someone. This method is said to be very helpful in the future, however it is too premature to use yet and it still needs to be refined before it can be used on eye witnesses of actual crimes to determine the criminals.

  6. From Chloe D
    Psychology Homework
    Audio and Videos to watch: Elizabeth Loftus TED Talk, How Neuroscience can improve EWT and Loftus Mind changers.
    1. To Which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?
    Steve Titus Case: He went out for dinner with his wife when he was pulled over by the cops. Earlier that day a hitchhiker was raped and Steve Titus’ car was similar. At the scene they took his photo. When they showed his photo amongst other photos to the victim she said Steve Titus’ image was the closest. Later on when Steve Titus appeared in court, the victim then said, that’s definitely him to which he was convicted and sent to jail for rape – which he didn’t do. Loftus wanted to research into why the victim went from saying he’s the closest to actually saying, that’s definitely him. Loftus started to study false memories and designed and did some experience to achieve some answers. 300 people were convicted of unguilty crimes each year in America, and ¾ of them are due to the victims false memory. Memory is constructive; people can change your memory, but so can you (like a Wikipedia page).
    The experiments were:
    • Stimulated Car Crash
    Misleading questions about ‘smashing’ and ‘hitting’ can lead you to change you answer about the intensity of a crash. It shows that participants asked the question “how fast was the car going when it smashed?” Were more likely to exaggerate their answer as it sounds more fierce. Also the participants who answered that question when asked about glass, they said they could see glass smashed on the floor, where in fact there wasn’t.
    • Stop or Yield Sign Car picture
    Most participants didn’t know whether the picture said STOP or YEILD
    • Having a stressful experience
    The USA Military Soldiers were told they were having a heroin training session so they could learn how to cope if ever captured; they were interrogated and kept in a hostile and abusive fashion. After 30 minutes they had to identify who it was interrogating them. When we feed people false information their experiences change and you identify the incorrect person. This is what happened with the soldiers; the person they pick didn’t even closely look like the actual person.
    How can you change your memory?
    • The world experiences will change is subconsciously
    • Also by talking to other witnesses of the same event who don’t realise they are feeding us their information which changes our memory
    • By listening to a media coverage of the event
    Other Experiments:
    • Psychotherapy Study
    In the 1990s there were extreme memory problems with having psychotherapy. When a patient had psychotherapy for one problem they came out having other problems. Once, a woman had psychotherapy and believed that she was forced into pregnancy and the baby was cut open from the stomach. Although there were no physical scars to show this – therefore she was making it up; this suggests that she was making these memories up from her psychotherapy sessions. Elizabeth Loftus looked into what was actually happening in psychotherapy. There were 4 main exercises; imagination exercise, Dream interpretation, Hypnosis, Exposure to false information. Were all of these exercises leading the patients to form weird memories? Loftus designed some experiments to look into the development of these false memories.
    1. She used the method of suggestion to input false memories into the memories of participants. She told them they were lost in a shopping mall as a child, being very frightened and also crying. They were then rescued by an elderly person and reunited with their family. They planted this memory in their minds which wasn’t a stressful or traumatic experience.
    2. Researchers planted experiences such as drowning on a beach and a life guard having to save you and another example was that as a child you were bitten by a very large dog. Which is a traumatic/ scary situation
    When loftus published her findings, psychotherapists felt pressured by her and they wrote their feelings to her. This also happened with the patients receiving psychotherapy.
    Do false memories affect your later behaviours?
    • By telling someone they were very ill as a child eating a certain food, this makes the child less obliged to eat that food was they have been told.
    We can plant false memories and they repercussion us and effect our behaviours long after the memories take hold.

    2. Why has this researched caused controversy?
    Loftus is at the centre of a controversial and dramatic phenomenon in psychology today. Often compared to the witchcraft trials, a recent rise in reported memories of childhood sexually repressed memories and accusations have caused an uproar in questioning the validity of the memories. Loftus saw this child abuse explosion of the eighties as an open door for further memory research.
    3. How could neuroscience improve EWT?
    On average 80% of the time we can accurately classify an old face that’s recognised as old and distinguish that pattern from a new face that’s perceived. This is like a fingerprint of recognition. The neuro finger printer or neuro patterns associated with the conscious experiences of recognising a stimulus like a face. This can help the justice system in many ways. The Justice System rely heavily on EWT, for example the Criminal Justice System. But EWT seems to be one of the things most flawed, so trying to determine the likelihood of a person actually seeing a fake image that they claim to have seen. This is really important so the Justice System can convict the right person.

  7. From Livia …..

    Loftus has applied her research to many cases, one in particular being the case of Steve Titus. He was wrongly accused and sent to prison for a crime (rape) that he did not commit; through the accusation of the woman who at first selected the picture of Titus and claimed his characteristics were “the closest” to those of the criminal, she later claimed it was “definitely him”. The true rapist was found during Titus’ time in prison and consequently he was released, he soon filed a lawsuit to claim justice but died from a stress related heart attack (at 35)- just days before he was due to go to court.
    Loftus was interested in finding out how the woman accusing Steve Titus of being the rapist went from thinking it was him, to then being “certain”. She did many experiments and studied memory being a reconstructive process rather than a record and how questions asked can evidently change the responses given from the participants, showing how those around the woman in the Steve Titus case affected her memory and caused her to believe Titus was the true rapist.

    2) The research carried out by Loftus has caused controversy, as many people believe that it is unethical to plant false memories and incorrect information into the participants to make them truly believe that the situations occurred. An example of this is when Loftus made participants believe that they had been attacked by an animal.
    It also caused controversy when Loftus challenged the case of a mother accused of sexually abusing her daughter, although it saved the reputation of the mother people still believed it to be wrong for her to intrude on the case.

    3) Although not developed fully, there are hopes for the future about neuroscience being used to improve eye witness testimony. A brain scanner can be used by scientists, a 2 hour scan of activity whilst the eye witness is shown a selection of pictures will show a certain pattern of brain activity when they recognise something (like a particular face). The eye witness can be asked to focus on a single feature and then are asked if they can match it to a feature of someone that they recognise; showing if the participant can really recognise someone.

  8. And from Maisie ….

    11/11/2012
    1) To which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?
    • Loftus has used her research in the Steve Titus case- an engaged, 31 year old man who lived in Seattle and was accused of raping a female hitchhiker. He was innocent but when the victim was given a photo line up, including a photograph of Titus, she stated that Titus was “the closest” looking to the rapist. The trial went on and when Titus was put on trial the victim said “I’m absolutely positive that is the man.” Despite his innocence and his family pleading his innocence, he was sent to jail. He got hold of a journalist who found the real rapist, who confessed to the rape and 50 others. When this evidence was given to the judge, Titus was set free.
    • Titus had lost his job; his fiancé because of his anger; lost his savings and all of this lead to filing a law suit against the police and others responsible for his suffering. Days before his trial, Titus died of a stress related heart attack at 35 years old.
    • Loftus was trying to find out how the victim changed her mind from thinking Titus resembled the closest image of the rapist to believing that he was certainly the rapist. Loftus specialises in studying not memory loss but what people remember, whether it happened or not, and why; false memories.
    • In one project in the US information was gathered about 300 innocent people who were convicted of crimes and it was found 75% of them were convicted due to faulty eye witness memory. This is because our memory is constructive and Loftus explains to be like a “Wikipedia page” and that we and other people can change.
    • Loftus discovered that when people are asked “how fast a car was going when it SMASHED into the other car” compared to being asked “how fast the car was going when it HIT into the other car” made them guess a higher speed to the smashed question. People also mentioned broken glass when asked the question including the word SMASHED when there was no broken glass.
    • She also did the YIELD and STOP experiment (information in my folder that we did in class) which showed that misleading information caused the participants to recall different information than what they had witnessed.
    • Loftus also composed a high stress study involving US military trainees who were undergoing an experiment to see how they would cope with being captured by the enemy. The soldiers are interrogated in an aggressive, hostile and physically abusive way for 30 minutes and later they have to identify the person who interrogated them. When they are fed suggested information that insinuates it was a different person, many of them would misidentify the man for someone that does not remotely resemble the actual man.
    • These studies show that when you feed people misleading information about an event you can distort/contaminate/change their memory. “Misinformation is everywhere.”

    2) Why has this research caused controversy?
    • 1990’s: patients going into therapy with one problem (eating disorder, depression) but coming out of therapy with a different problem. Some form of psychotherapy lead people to believe that terrible things had happened to them when actually they had not. Imagination, dream interpretation, exposure to false information and hypnosis: believed as possibilities for these false memories. Loftus carried out a study whereby they managed to convince 25% of their participants that when they were young they got lost in a shopping mall and where reunited with their family by an elderly person. In Tennessee, psychologists planted the memory that when people where children they almost drowned and where rescued by a lifeguard.
    • Loftus said “it may seem that we are traumatising these experimental subjects in the name of science” but she ensures that the studies have been under thorough examination to make sure that the temporary discomfort that people may undergo in these studies is outweighed by the importance of this problem of the “abuse of memory.”
    • When Loftus began to speak out about her research against this particular type of psychotherapy, it created some bad problems; complaints from the psychologists using these techniques and the patients they had helped.
    • Loftus became suspicious about a case whereby a daughter was accusing her mother of sexual abuse due to a repressed memory, as she was convinced the mother was innocent. Loftus published a expose on the case and afterwards the accusing daughter filed a law suit for deformation and abusing her privacy. Ended after 5 years but during the time she was part of the phase of scientists being accused for speaking out about their research.
    • Loftus discovered that if you have a false memory planted then you will continue to react to this much later on (e.g if a memory is planted that you got sick from a food when you were younger you would avoid eating it but if you had a memory planted that a certain food made you better you would feel compelled to eat it more often)
    • Ethical Dilemmas: scientists cannot ethically plant false information in the minds of their patients even if it would help the patient but there’s nothing that stops a parent from trying it on their overweight child. When Loftus released this publically it created outcry again.
    • “Just because somebody tells you something and they say it with confidence, lots of detail and express emotion when they say it- it doesn’t really mean that it happened.” We can’t reliably distinguish true memories from false memories.
    • “Memory- like liberty- is a fragile thing.”

    3) How could neuroscience improve eye witness testimony?
    • Study: photo line up of 200 faces, see’s each one face for 2 seconds. She then has a MRI brain scan and she is shown each face for 2 seconds and then gets 8 seconds to decide whether the face is new of familiar. Mean while the brain scan is used to notice patterns throughout the brain depending on whether she recognises a face or not. The participant is then given tips on how to fool the memory decoder by concealing her memories. Focus on the aspects of the photograph rather than recognising the face itself and that if she sees a new face, to think of someone it reminds her of. The study revealed that in the first experiment when she had to decide if she recognised the face or not; her brain flashed signals of recognition when she was co operating with the memory decoder. However in the second experiment when she was deliberately trying to confuse the memory decoder, the success rate fell to chance.
    • This data could be used in the real world in the justice system, as for eye witness testimony it could reveal whether a person really has seen a face before, before someone is convicted of a crime. It could stop people being incorrectly convicted and the memory decoder would signal whether the victim recognised the face of the suspect from their brain patterns. This would rely less on the victims recollection of the memory as the memory can become contaminated by surround environments and what other people feed into it.

  9. From Ellie ….

    To which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?
    Elizabeth Loftus has applied her research to numerous court cases defending those who she believes have been wrongly accused based on false memories. She dedicated a lot of time to Steve Titus case, where he was wrongly accused of raping a female hitchhiker, once she proved his innocence, he fought back to the justice system that unfairly caused him so much stress and trauma; and died of a stress induced heart attack. Loftus has also applied her research into how false memories have a strong effect on our daily lives, and controlling obesity by implanting patients with preferences for healthy foods. There are numerous more cases that Loftus has applied her research too of a similar nature.
    Why has this research caused controversy?
    Loftus made it clear that she wanted to do work that has a more practical relevance and in doing so opened herself up to scrutiny and controversy. There have been 2 cases which have caused much controversy. The first posed the argued unethical issue of planting memories into people’s heads; although her study found that it was in fact possible to plant memories that the person believed to be true it goes against people’s code of ethics and so caused controversy. The next was a case where a mother had allegedly sexually abused her daughter and Loftus proclaimed the mothers innocence. The daughter accused Loftus of an invasion of privacy and filed a law suit against her; however Loftus proved that the mother was in fact innocent. People are still debating whether or not Loftus research is reliable as it is such a phenomenon to the psychology world today and the impact that it could have on the justice system is very substantial; thus it is a matter of personal opinion.
    How could neuroscience improve eye witness testimonies?
    Neuroscience has the ability to test whether or not our brains recognise a face that we may have seen before. There is currently a lot of testing underway to determine whether the brain may be able to remember things that we don’t. The theory that Dr. Wagner of Stanford University is testing is whether or not MRI scanners can pick up on facial recognition and memory. Results have found that the subconscious of our brains recognises patterns when a face is recognised that show up a lot of the time. On average 80% the scanner accurately can classify an old face being recognised to a new one and this is down to the neurofingerprint associated with the conscious experience of recognising stimulus of faces.
    There is controversy as to if this actually does work and so researches are actively trying to break down their own system to ensure that this equipment does not enter the real world prematurely. On confusing the machinery and planting false memories into the head the success rate fell by chance, whereas the signal of recognition was well above chance when trying to cooperate. It is extremely important that the data is adequate and correct before it is entered into the justice system. If the data collected proves that this study works it could be extremely useful as the justice system relies heavily on Eye Witness Testimony and this tends to be the most flawed.

  10. From Jasmin

    Loftus has applied her research about false memories to the case study of Steve Titus. In October 1980, Titus was arrested for the rape of a female hitchhiker due to his resemblance to the woman’s description of the rapist. When the witness was shown a picture of Titus in a collection of photos, she told police officers that Titus was “the closest”. In court, she was asked again whether Titus was the man who had raped her; she was certain that it was him. Titus became convicted for a crime that he did not commit. Titus’ name was cleared eventually but he had lost everything, demanding compensation. Days before his trial, Titus died of a stress-related heart attack. Through further research Loftus has reformed the treatment of eyewitnesses during court proceedings. Her research has also changed many psychotherapy methods. She noticed that many psychotherapy patients would leave their sessions with a different, unrelated problem than what they had started with. She found that this was due to exposure to excessive false information.

    Loftus’ research has caused controversy. One example of this is when Loftus experimented by planting false memories into participants’ heads. One of her experiments featured a memory of an animal attack being implanted into the minds of the participants. The experiment was considered unethical, as the stress that this can cause to participants is high.

    Neuroscience could be used to improve eyewitness testimony by Eyewitnesses having their brain scanned while viewing a selection of pictures. Upon recognition, the brain scanner will display a certain pattern of brain activity. The participant is then asked to focus onto a particular feature of the persons face to try and match it to someone that they recognize. This method could be very helpful in the future; it is only in its early stages and must be refined before it can be used on eyewitnesses of actual crimes.

  11. From Ines

    To which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?
    Loftus took great interest in the case of Steve Titus, who was wrongly convicted for raping a female hitchhiker. He was pulled over by police on the night of the rape as his car resembled the car of the rapist and Titus vaguely resembled the rapist. The police took a photo of Titus, put it in a photo line up and showed the victim, who said that Titus was the closest. Titus was put on trial and during the trial the victim said that she was absolutely positive that Titus was the rapist. Titus was sent to jail, however he called up the local newspaper and got the interest of a journalist who actually found the real rapist and Titus was set free. Titus had lost almost everything from his previous life before jail and therefore filled a law suit against the police and others who had got him wrongly convicted. This is when Loftus became interested in the case, and questioned how the victim went from saying Titus was ‘the closest’ to being ‘absolutely positive’ that he was the rapist. Loftus dicovered that 3/4 of defendents convicted wrongly in America were due to eye witness testimony and wondered how this is so often the case.
    Loftus strongly believes that other people can influence the way that you remember an event. She refers to memory as a ‘wikipedia page’: you can go in and change it yourself, but so can other people. A study that Loftus conducted showed people a simulated accident and then afterwards asked them about the speed of the vehicles involved in the accident. Some witnesses were questioned with ‘how fast were the cars going when they hit each other’ whereas others were questioned with ‘fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other’. She found that the subjects said that the cars were going faster if they used the word smashed than the word hit. Also, when asked whether they had seen any broken glass in the accident, more people said ‘yes’ if they had used the word smashed.
    Another experiment that Loftus was part of was the US military exercise, which shows what it’s going to be like if they are ever captured as a prisoner of war. The participants receive 30 minutes of interigation and then afterwards have to identify the interrigator. Loftus found that when the participants were fed information that insinuates it was a different person, many participants misidentified the interrigator. Loftus was shocked to the extent that the participants could be mislead, as often the accused interrigator barely resmebled the real one.
    Loftus concluded from studies like these that you can distort others memory. You can do this by asking misleading questions, by simply talking to others who influence us, or from media coverage.
    Loftus has also researched the affect of psychotherapy on memory. She disovered that exposure to false information through things such as hypnosis can lead to patients having bizarre memories. Lofus tested this by having a false memory, such as being lost in a shopping mall as a child and becoming very distressed, implanted into someones memory, and after the hypnosis, roughly 1/4 of people actually recalled this memory as having occurred.
    Loftus discovered that if you plant false memories, they can have reprocussions that affect behaviour long after.
    Why has this research caused controversy?
    There were hostilities primarily from the repressed memory therapists who felt under attack and by some patients who had been going to these therapists.
    Loftus became suspicious of a story of a mother’s abuse to her daughter so she decided to investigate and found information to convince herself that the mother was innocent. The daughter filled a law suit against Loftus, who had 5 years of dealing with messy litigation.
    Another problem that Loftus has faced is that of ethical issues. Causing traumatic disturbanced to people is not particularly ethical, although the affect that a disturbance will have is carefully evaluated against the benefit that it will cause.
    How neuroscience could improve eyewitness testimony?
    Experiments have been carried out to see how neuroscience could help to see how accurate memory recollection actually is. An example of an experiment is showing participants 50 photos of faces, each for 2 seconds at a time. The brain is shortly after scanned in an MRI scanner, and the participant is shown photos again for 2 seconds, and they are asked to indentify whether the photo is an old one or it is new. The brain is being monitered at the same time, to see whether the brain recognises a photo, even though the person does not. In a study, it was found that 80% accurately classify an old face.
    This could help with eye witness testimony as it could allow the brain to distinguish between whether a face is the actual face the police are after, or whether the face resembles a familiar or similar face. This could lead to more accurate convictions in the future.

  12. From Rachel L

    To which cases and problems has Loftus applied her research?
    Loftus studies false memories and has applied her research to many studies. She wanted to find out how giving people misleading information could affect their recall of memories that they have experienced.
    Steve Titus:
    Steve Titus was a man who was convicted over a false memory. At first the victim said that he was the guy who looked the closest when shown a group of photos but when it came to the trial, she said she was absolutely sure he’s the guy. So how did her memory change between this time?
    Loftus said that memory isn’t like a recording device, it’s more like a Wikipedia page- you can put information in but other people can edit it. You may think that you remember something, when in fact, it didn’t happen exactly how you remember it.
    Your memories can be distorted by people giving you suggestive information and in this case, maybe the police were encouraging her to say that he was definitely the guy.

    Simulated accidents:
    Loftus carried out two experiments about simulated car accidents:

    1) People were shown a simulated car accident and afterwards, were asked one of the following two questions
    – How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?
    – How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?
    On average, people gave a faster speed when asked the smashed question. That question also caused people to say that there was broken glass in the accident even though there wasn’t. The word ‘smashed’ misled people to actually think the cars smashed.
    2) People were shown a simulated car accident at a junction with a stop sign. They were then shown a series of slides. If they were asked a question insinuating that it was a yield sign, many participants had told them that they remember seeing a yield sign.

    Putting people under stress:
    Members of the US military were put under stress to teach them what it would be like if they were ever captured as prisoners- they were interrogated in an aggressive, hostile and physically abusive way for 30 minutes. Later on, they had to identify who the interrogator was. They were fed false/suggestive information to find out if the information could distort their memories. The study proved them correct as many participants misidentified the man, even if the real interrogator and the misidentified man looked completely different.

    Therapy:
    It was found that some patients were going into therapy with one problem and leaving with a different one- extreme memories for horrific brutalisations. One lady came out of therapy believing that she had endured years of abuse and that she was forced into a pregnancy and the baby was cut from her belly, however, there was no physical evidence.

    So where do these memories come from in psychotherapy?
    – Imagination
    – Dream interpretations
    – Hypnosis
    – False information
    Loftus did a study to see the process/development on the brain when planting a false memory into people’s heads. They used suggestive information to plant a false memory that when the participants were a child, they were lost in a shopping mall. They were successful in planting this false memory into ¼ of the participant’s minds.
    They also planted one of the following false memories into different participants:
    – When you were a child, you nearly drowned
    – When you were a child, you were attacked by a dog
    – When you were a child, you witnessed demonic possession.
    These false memories were successfully planted into about ½ of the participants.

    In summary, all of these experiments show that when you feed people misinformation about an experience that they have had, you can distort/change someone’s recall of their memory.

    Why has this research caused controversy?

    Loftus’s research has caused controversy as people feel like she is ‘attacking them’ or ‘invading their privacy.’
    The psychiatrists and the patients from the repressed memory therapy were all hostile towards Loftus as they didn’t agree with her research. People also tried to create campaigns to get Loftus fired.
    The worst thing was when a girl said that her mum was guilty of sexual abuse but Loftus was suspicious and that the girls claim was based on a repressed memory. Loftus started to investigate and she eventually found some information that convinced her that she was innocent. She published her results and even though she didn’t say the name of the people, the girl filed a lawsuit against Loftus. After 5 years, Loftus could finally get back to work. Scientists are being sued all over America for simply speaking out about matters of public controversy. Loftus’s research has caused controversy simply because people don’t agree with her opinions and results.
    How could neuroscience improve eye witness testimony?
    In the criminal system, eye witness testimony is something that they rely heavily on to convict people of crimes. However, it tends to be the thing that is the most flawed. Having the brain scan like the lady in the video could be an incredible improvement to eye witness testimony. This piece of research shows that you can scan the brain and it shows if the brain recognises the face that they’ve been shown. This could be useful in eye witness testimony because it shows if a victim has actually seen the person before.

  13. How neuroscience could improve eyewitness testimony:
    *set of 200 images each displayed for 2 seconds
    *she spends 2 hours in an MRI machine
    *she sees the images again for 2 seconds and has 8 seconds to make a decision regarding whether it is a new face or one she remembers
    *MRI is taking a scan of her brain every 2 seconds
    *MRI is looking for patterns of activity all over the brain
    *neuropattern associated with the conscious experience of recognising a stimulus like a face
    *secondly, they try to get her brain to ‘trick’ the computer with thoughts like “that looks like my friend Tom”
    *the computer wasn’t tricked
    *this would be useful for eye witness testimonies as they can judge whether they have seen this face before
    *it helps the criminal justice system as it creates a more likely way of finding the criminals

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