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People remember things that never happened

On Behalf of | Jul 31, 2019 | Criminal Defense

You may have heard that memories can change over time, and it’s true. However, studies have revealed that the problem can go much farther than that. In reality, people often suffer from “false memories.” Essentially, though they feel convinced that what they remember is real, it never happened at all.

The studies

A lot of studies in recent years have focused on memory, and it is becoming clear that it does not work the way people often assume that it works. It can be wrong in many cases. It may be impossible for people with false memories to even know that they have them, though, because the memories feel so real.

For instance, one test asked people about famous dates in history to see if what they remembered had actually happened. When talking about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, researchers distorted some of the facts. One thing that they did was to tell people about footage of a plane crashing in Pennsylvania.

It is true that United Flight 93 crashed that day, and there was a crater in a field in Pennsylvania. That made the news. However, no one actually filmed the plane going down. The footage that the researchers talked about is not real and no one could have seen it. It’s a strict impossibility.

Even so, roughly 20% of the people in the study said that they had seen it. They could remember it, they claimed. They’d watched the plane crash.

This is more than just getting some details wrong on a chaotic day. These people honestly thought that they remembered something that it was impossible to remember.

It could be that they just got confused. There was a lot of news footage of the crash site and, of course, plenty of footage of the other plane crashes on that fateful day. Could people have just been combining these memories in their minds?

Perhaps, but it still shows how false memories get created. When asked what they had seen, these people confidently claimed to have seen something that they never did.

Criminal cases

Researchers study memories for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is the impact on criminal cases. If people can have false memories, what does that mean for witness testimonies? Even if someone seems confident and acts convinced about something they saw, did they really see it? Or is that just a false memory that they cannot sort from the real ones?

It’s important for those facing criminal charges in New Jersey to know all of their legal rights regardless of the situation. However, this becomes even more critical when witnesses testify against them based on false memories or inaccurate recollections of what took place.