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Why you can’t always trust childhood memories



Home » Why you can’t always trust childhood memories

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Whether or not all memories are accurate is of vital importance to the wrongfully accused. This is particularly the case when the allegations are historical. In such cases, there will usually be no witnesses to the event described by the complainant, and no forensic evidence. Records made by the accused may well have been lost or destroyed after such a long time. A trial then becomes a matter of who can tell the most convincing story.

The defendant can quite truthfully say that they have no memory of the alleged crime and know they never committed such a crime. Meanwhile, the complainant can relate in great detail the events that they think they remember, and not only that, they will believe them to be true. It’s no wonder that the jury are going to be convinced by the complainant.

We have told the story of how memories are not infallible here and here . Professor Elizabeth Loftus did ground breaking research back in the 1970s and became involved in the so called ‘memory wars’ in which she debunked the idea that ‘recovered memories’ were reliable. The British False Memory Society (BFMS) was formed in 1993 as a response to the increasing number of allegations of non recent sexual abuse relating to ‘recovered memories’.

The following link is to a video recently published by the BBC called ‘why your first childhood memory is probably wrong‘. The video is a brief explanation of how memories can be changed by what other people say they think could have happened. They can even be deliberately altered or ‘hacked’.

If you want to read about this further, have a look at the BFMS page on research here. At the very least it may help understand how a complainant can sometimes honestly make an allegation about something that didn’t really happen, but even more, this knowledge may help in your defence.

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