Elizabeth F. Loftus

University of California, Irvine


Election Year: 2004
Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Secondary Section: 53, Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

As a psychological scientist, I have studied human memory. My earliest studies demonstrated that innocuous procedures could alter memories of past events. In early experiments, experimental witnesses to an event were later interviewed with questions that insinuated novel (and incorrect) information into the memory record of the event. For example, after watching a simulated auto accident, the question "Did another car pass the red Datsun while it was at the stop sign?" led interviewees who had seen a yield sign to later recall having seen a stop sign at the intersection. The contamination or distortion of memory through post-event suggestion became known in the field of cognitive psychology as the "Misinformation Effect." In later research, I developed paradigms for exploring extreme instances of a malleable memory. In one study (called the 'lost in the mall' study) I demonstrated the ease with which one could create, in adults, 'recovered' unpleasant memories of having been, as a child, separated from a parent on a shopping trip, and after great distress being rescued and reunited with the family. My later studies showed how imagination, or exposure to other people's stories, or dream interpretation, or a multitude of suggestive techniques could lead people to have wholly false beliefs and memories about their past. My desire to understand the processes by which people develop "rich false memories" has motivated much of research.

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