Quirks & Quarks

Creating Criminal Memories

Psychologists are able to create memories of criminal acts in innocent people through simple interrogation techniques.
(Yumi Kimura, cc-by-sa-2.0)
Our memories are not as accurate or reliable as we think they are, and now new work shows just how easy it is to create a disturbing memory of an important event.

Dr. Stephen Porter, a professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, used techniques similar to those used in police interrogations to encourage the creation of false memories in young adults. In a series of interviews, he and his colleagues were able to encourage their subjects to "recall" detailed memories of violent and criminal acts they'd committed in their early adolescence that had never happened in reality.

It took only three interviews for these memories to be created in 70% of their subjects. Dr. Porter suggests this indicates that criminal investigators should be careful with interview techniques that can result in false memories and confessions.

Related Links

- Abstract and Paper (pdf) in Psychological Science
Psychological Science release
Toronto Star story
- NPR story
New Yorker story

Crime scene image copyright Yumi Kimura, cc-by-sa-2.0