TFTRH #31: Professor Elizabeth Loftus – Memory and Conspiracy


Elizabeth Loftus is an expert on memory. A Distinguished Professor in several fields*, her work focusses on false memories, how they can be accidentally created and how they can be deliberately manipulated. We discuss many aspects of memory and how it sometimes relates to the world of conspiracy theories. We touch on UFOs, Chemtrails, 9/11, Jeffery Epstein, and the moral panics of the 1980s.

*In my introduction, I mangled together the various departments where Professor Loftus is a professor. The correct list is:

  • Psychological Science;
  • Criminology, Law and Society
  • Cognitive Science
  • Law
Links to topics discussed

Are recovered memories always false?
Define your terms.

Obviously not. I can forget something, then with prompting from my wife I can recover that memory. Even years later.

But it’s suspect. You can’t rely purely on memory alone, especially about old events you’ve not thought about for years.
Ms. Loftus said you need "independent corroboration".

of course if the person you ask doesn't remember, that doesn't really mean the memory is false. My cousin asked me to corroborate something from like 25 years prior. She was very vague, so her shrink must have coached her on how not to "lead" me. I didn't remember. Maybe a month later it dawned on me what she was probably talking about, and I did remember. Of course I never told her that, for a variety of reasons. (mostly didn't see the point in bringing it back up, it wasn't a traumatizing type thing).
My (visual) memory came into play, when I had reported a crime committed upon me....many years earlier.
(This is kind-of personal, but I don't mind sharing it.)
I was sexually abused by a middle-school teacher (1970's)....and I hid the situation for many years because of embarrassment and possibly personal shame. (I was only 14yo at the time)
But years later, I felt guilty for not reporting it, and I finally realized that reporting it might bring some justice as well as might help prevent further criminal effects.
12 years after the event(s), I reported it to the police, and was told that there was no "criminal time limit" (statute of limitation law) in this type of case.
I was given a photocopy of 6 different profile photos of "supposed" people who looked similar, and I was asked to pick out the person who violated me. Remember, this was 10+ years after the crime, and these were "current profile photos", so this person had aged quite a bit and I had not seen him since, in those passing years.
I looked very carefully at each profile photo, and I told the officer that I did not want to choose a pic (person) that was incorrect.
But I did choose a photo pic, and the police detective was a little surprised that I was able to identify the accused person exactly, so many years later.

Unfortunately, the investigator said that he could not go forward with criminal charges unless there were additional corroborating claims from independent sources, to verify my claim(s).
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I've listened a couple of times and was struck by the steps taken in the study to give people a false memory. Namely, that the false memory is couched in or sandwiched by other events that are real that they do remember. I am struck because of the similarity to a disinformation tactic that I heard of in an interview of Chuck Todd's with Clint Watts. Watts suggests that disinfo techniques use truth to propel lies. I am also reminded of George Lakoff's solution to counter disinfo or lies by using what he calls a "truth sandwich". A way to avoid repetition of the disinfo by sandwiching it in between the truth. All three techniques seem to use this same formula. Must be because it works!