Thursday, February 10, 2011

Memory expert says memories are not the final version of events

Persons who experience real world events face issues of perception and its affects on memory when asked to recall those events at a later time.

Dr. Geoffrey R. Loftus
At least that’s the testimony of Dr. Geoffrey R. Loftus, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “You get fragments of the event, bits and pieces in a disorganized fashion,” he testified, Thursday, at the double homicide trial for Minuteman American Defense founder Shawna Forde.

Forde, 43, is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder in the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, as well as charges of one count of attempted first-degree murder; one count of burglary in the first-degree; one count of aggravated assault, serious physical injury; one count of aggravated assault, deadly weapon/dangerous instrument; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery.

Global perspective

Loftus was called as an expert witness in an attempt to discredit testimony Gina Gonzalez, who survived the home invasion. “Post-event information that is false as the witness incorporates it becomes more strong but is false,” he testified. “People do not notice that their memory has changed over time.”

Loftus told the jury “global features are visually large,” while “detailed features are smaller” and global features are easier to process as “stress is challenging.” Besides stress, fear, violence and media accounts are a significant influence on memory. “Your memory becomes more consistent with the information provided in the media accounts,” he said.

Jury questions

The jury asked several significant questions of Loftus. The first was whether or not post-event information can trigger the recall of accurate memories. “There are various kinds of information that could trigger accurate information,” he testified.

The jury wanted to know if memories are more accurate if a witness sees someone in person rather than in a picture such as the picture lineup Gonzalez was shown by detectives. “A three dimensional view provides more facts,” Loftus said.

And, the jury wanted to know if time slows down for people during stressful events. “No,” was the answer from Loftus after complimenting the question.
 All pool photos are courtesy of Jonathon LeFaive