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Memory can change with recall

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2023 | Criminal Defense

If you ask someone if they remember something, they may be very confident. They will think about it for a moment, tell you that they can recall all the details, and then relay their story.

But are they right? Many people think of memory as similar to a video camera — as if the brain is making a perfect recording that will always be accurate as long as the person was present to experience that event. But scientific researchers note that human memory is actually much “more fragile and faulty than we ever thought.”

Changing your own memories

What they’ve discovered is that memories change over time. Even things that a person remembers and truly feels like they have seen may not be true. They may have been altered.

In many cases, the issue is that stories tend to change just a little bit each time you recall them. Your brain is missing some details, but it is good at creating narratives. So it puts things together in a way that seems to make sense.

But these “memories” could be influenced by outside factors. Maybe the audience is bored with the story, so you tell it in a slightly different way. Maybe you read a newspaper report about the same event, so you accidentally insert details about that event into your own memory.

The connection to criminal cases

The scientific understanding of memory may seem abstract on a daily basis, but it’s very important in criminal cases. It means that an eyewitness could genuinely believe that they are telling the truth, even though they are getting the details wrong. This is one reason for false identifications and arrests. Those who are facing this type of situation must know what legal defense options they have.