Memory is a remarkable and fragile phenomenon. Or so says Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher and psychologist whose TED talk is the basis for this blog post.
Memory is an important component of our lives as actors and performers and certainly an important part of the lives of lawyers and their witnesses. Attorneys rely on their clients and their witnesses for memories of events, contracts, their actions and the actions of all the folks who are a part of the trial story. For many years, the research has shown that eyewitness testimony can be remarkably UNRELIABLE. Elizabeth Loftus in this enlightening talk expands on this through her own research.
Katherine and I are currently performing in a play by Joyce Carol Oates that concerns memory and the fragile, almost surreal quality of memory….false memories, insistence on a past and a history that we wish were true, hope was true. It has been a remarkable journey for us as actors and especially because of our work with attorneys. In this play, a married couple is being interviewed by a disembodied voice about their son who is accused of raping and murdering the 14 year old daughter of a neighbor and disposing of her body in the basement of the couple’s house.
So reminiscent of the cases that many of our colleagues have worked on. And so tragic and sad as the couple struggles to believe in the story of their family, their son and their lives, as they remember it and “know” it.
The lessons here for attorneys about memory and how stories of people’s lives are constructed is eye opening and will provide much food for thought.
For reviews and interviews about the play TONE CLUSTERS that Katherine and I are doing, please visit our website.
TIP: You already know when your witness is guessing about “what must have happened.” Do you know when they are “sure” about something that didn’t happen? Don’t rely on the memory of any one person in constructing the story of your case. Even if that one person has details and emotion and is “sure.” Get corroborating details from many sources.
Elizabeth Loftus altered the course of legal history by revealing that memory is not only unreliable, but also mutable. Since the 1970s, Loftus has created an impressive body of scholarly work and has appeared as an expert witness in hundreds of courtrooms, bolstering the cases of defendants facing criminal charges based on eyewitness testimony, and debunking “recovered memory” theories popular at the time, as in her book The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (with Katherine Ketcham).
Since then, Loftus has dedicated herself to discovering how false memories can affect our daily lives, leading her to surprising therapeutic applications for memory modification — including controlling obesity by implanting patients with preferences for healthy foods.