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Memories may not be as reliable as many people think

Last week, we wrote a post about the FBI ordering a review of a sample of cases that involved hair evidence. The convictions that came out of these cases were put under review to discover if the importance of hair evidence in a case is overstated — in other words, that prosecutors and jurors believe the connection between a hair sample and a suspect is ironclad, when really it may not be. However, many cases have been found where people are convicted of crimes on the basis that their hair matched hair at a crime scene — only for DNA evidence to later rule them out as the offender. Well, there is more news in the “some evidence may be shoddy” department. This time, it deals with memory and how it is far from a flawless piece of evidence in criminal defense cases. A team of scientists implanted a memory into mice. The memory, when triggered, would make the mice think that they had been hit with an electroshock at a certain point in a maze; even though they really weren’t. The entire group of mice was given the false memory — but only half of the mice were flashed with a photo-sensitive light that would trigger the memory. Sure enough, the mice that had the memory triggered would avoid the point of the maze where the supposed electroshock occurred; while the other mice walked right through the point without hesitation. Essentially the study calls into question the reliability of memory. The study is far from definitive; but sometimes, people fail to properly remember things. This can happen because of a long duration of time between the incident and when the memory is recalled; it can happen because other events have distorted the person’s memory; or there could be myriad other mental or psychological factors that cause a person’s memory to be imperfect. For this reason, you cannot always rely on a person’s memory of a given incident. Certain aspects or details of the story may be corrupted or incorrect. Source: Los Angeles Times, “Memories can’t always be trusted, neuroscience experiment shows,” Melissa Healy, July 25, 2013

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