Memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus receives prestigious award

The journal American Psychologist (July-August 2013 issue) awards Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Science of Psychology to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of U.C. Irvine.

“Elizabeth F. Loftus has made extraordinary contributions to our understanding of memory during the past 40 years that are remarkable for their creativity and impact.

She has been a pioneering scientist in the area of memory distortion and false memories. Her imaginative and rigorous research has had a profound impact on the field of psychology, on scholars outside the field, and on the administration of justice around the world.”

Congratulations to Dr. Loftus – one of my heroes. Her work on eyewitness testimony is CRITICAL to understanding how to evaluate anecdotal evidence in science, crime investigation and life situations.

Many paranormalists argue with me about why I do not highly value eyewitness accounts. They have obviously no knowledge of how malleable human memory is and need to read Loftus’ work.

Besides her body of findings in this field, she has stood up for the facts even when it meant she paid for it professionally. There were no Satanists torturing children at day care facilities; rogue psychologists actually were using tactics that lead their patients to falsely accuse their family members of horrible acts; we are tremendously open to memory manipulation – it is not like a video tape at all. It was not easy to tell the “victims” they are wrong. But they were.

Her work (most famously showing that people recalled a false memory of seeing Bugs Bunny at Disneyworld, which is impossible) is directly responsible for why I am skeptical of eyewitness accounts of UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot and the like. She has been such a huge influence on the person I am today.

One of the texts that is essential reading for anyone who does any type of investigations is Eyewitness Testimony by Loftus. Get it. Learn from it. And stop using flawed anecdotal evidence as foundation for extraordinary claims.

You can read her biography for the award here [PDF]


Dr. Elizabeth F. Loftus


  10 comments for “Memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus receives prestigious award

  1. August 5, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Excellent! I have her Eyewitness Testimony and Myth of Repressed Memory books. Both easy to read and highly informative.

  2. Harold Renshaw
    August 5, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    When I teach college students, I can usually expect a fight when I insist that they have memories that are not true. It takes a lot to convince them that some of their cherished recollections may be false, fabrications by their creative brains that need to be corroborated before they are to be believed. They often just shut up, not wanting to argue something with this stubborn Instructor.

  3. Chris Howard
    August 5, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    I wish I had known about her when I attended UCI. I would have definitely taken one of her classes.

  4. August 5, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    Her work is not nearly as well known as it should be. There are still lots of people who buy the whole “recovered memory” bull.

  5. August 6, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    I once did an experiment on myself…something tale-worthy happened to me, but when I told the story to others, I changed some facts (the location, who was there, etc.) and repeated it in the office and to friends. I was horrified that within 3 weeks I was starting to forget what really happened and had to seriously concentrate to remember. I wasn’t a full-fledged skeptic then but realizing how malleable memory is definitely got me started.

  6. Steersman
    August 8, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    Re your tweet:

    Want to know why I completely distrust anecdotes and testimony? Beth Loftus is why.

    Certainly some reason to view them with some degree of suspicion, but “completely distrust”? That looks a little dogmatic, and rather unskeptical.

    The question should be more whether there is any objective evidence that supports the anecdotes – largely the whole position of the western legal system if I’m not mistaken.

    Seems to be no end of cases where “anecdotes”, while not sufficient in themselves, become the starting point for some fruitful legal or scientific inquiries.

  7. August 8, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Any anecdotes either used in court or as evidence for some claim are fairly worthless unless backed up by other evidence. They have been shown to be unreliable. So, suspicion is not enough. Even if people are convinced they are recalling correctly, they very well may be highly inaccurate.

    Anecdotes are a start but that’s all. And testimony is its own thing. It will be greatly colored by one’s history, experience, agenda, etc.

  8. Matt
    August 13, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    Sharon, I just want you to know that your post on appears to have gotten scrambled somehow. This is how the link to this article reads: “I have some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news. My pet peeve is when congratulations to Beth Loftus who received a prestigious lifetime award in psychology What a sham. Then, they push this to kids.” I don’t think that’s what you meant to say.

  9. snoma
    August 13, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    Matt, we are fully aware and have told them about it. We hope they’ll fix it ASAP

  10. January 20, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    She’s definitely on my hero list. Her work helped me get an A on a psych. term paper in the 80’s, too. Her work also helped me understand why I was convicted of a crime I didn’t commit because the jury heard mountains of false memories by witnesses. Throughout my life, it’s truly helped me forgive those people, too.
    I didn’t know about her when I was on trial. If I had, I would have asked her to testify for me.
    I’m glad she’s been able to help so many others avoid false prosecution.

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