September 01, 2016

I Remember It Well: Memory and the Law

J. Thomas Dalby

What defines a person’s reality is their “memory”—specifically, the evocation of autobiographical events that are stored somewhere in their brain. Yet this fickle treasury is susceptible to decay, distortion, and silent forces that shape later deployment with the unsuspecting owner. Does it really matter if we retrieve information from our memory stores that does not accurately match true events? Was it 8 or 9 o’clock? Was it April or June? Awareness of such common inaccuracies of memory rarely surfaces save when another witness attempts concurrent recall of events that leave divergent results. That is why we have confidence in our personal memories—corrective reviews of them are the exception. Confidence, however, has little relationship with accuracy when dealing with our personal memories.

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