Memories of significant events are often inaccurate, a psychology professor told a group of AACC students at a virtual event Thursday.
At a Psychology Club-hosted event, speaker Charles Goodsell, who teaches at Canisius College in Buffalo, told students memory does not work like a video camera; that is, memories change over time.
Memories of significant events, like a crime or 9/11, are called “flashbulb memories,” Goodsell said. Witnesses believe these memories are accurate, Goodsell said, yet studies show their accuracy drops off over time just like memories of insignificant events.
In 70% of false convictions in court, Goodsell continued, prosecutors used faulty eyewitness accounts as evidence.
Witnesses are confident in these inaccurate memories, Goodsell said, because of something called the “narrative rehearsal hypothesis.”
“Eventually, we settle in on a story like, ‘This is my 9/11 story,’” Goodsell explained. “Then we tell it over and over, and we get good at telling that story. And that leads us to a high level of confidence in that story.”
Amber Bartlett, who said she plans to take psychology classes at AACC in the fall, said the talk made her realize how vulnerable memories are.
“Sometimes when [witnesses] do kind of say, ‘Yes, it was exactly this person’ … it could be not true,” Bartlett said. “And … it was scary to think about that.”
Eric Collyer, a first-year health and human sciences student, said the talk related to his former job as a sentry in the Marine Corps.
“A lot of my job was based on doing observation in small teams, watching people,” Collyer said. “And memory was a huge thing, because we had to memorize a lot of the stuff that we saw and report it later. So when [the speaker] was talking about … remembering information in high-stress scenarios, and remembering information for long periods of time … that’s the part that is really interesting to me.”