The ways that false memories can lead to wrongful convictions

July 2017

In the 1980s and 1990s, allegations of sexual abuse were rising, and alternative practices such as hypnotherapy and psychotherapy were gaining traction. People undergoing memory visualization techniques and hypnotism believed they were dredging up repressed memories, often of childhood physical and sexual abuse.

Elizabeth Loftus, a distinguished professor of psychology and social behavior, was intrigued by the trend and wondered how accurate the memories really were.

"You began to see hundreds of people coming forward, saying that they had recovered repressed memories of massive brutalisation that they'd been completely unaware of," Loftus told Wired. "I saw that something really big was going on here. It seemed that richly detailed whole memories were being planted into the minds of ordinary people [in therapy]."

Over the ensuing decades, Loftus's research decades would make her a pioneer in the field of false memory research.

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