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Study Finds Memories Can Change with Each Recall; Researcher Sees Criminal Justice Implications

A Northwestern University researcher has found that memory retrieval may be like the game of telephone.

Just as a whispered message changes with each retelling, memories can change when they are recalled multiple times, according to the study by Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. A press release summarizes the findings published in the journal Neuroscience.

“A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event—it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” Bridge said in the press release. “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”

Bridge says her findings have implications for eyewitness accounts in criminal trials. “Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted,” she said. “After that it keeps going downhill.”…

Source: ABA Law Journal, Sept. 24, 2012. By Debra Cassens Weiss.
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[More about Journal of Neuroscience paper here.]