ResidenceCalifornia, U.S. NationalityAmerican NameElizabeth Loftus FieldsPsychology
CitizenshipUnited States Doctoral advisorPatrick Suppes RolePsychologist
October 16, 1944 (age 71)
Los Angeles, Califorina, U.S. (1944-10-16) InstitutionsUniversity of California, Irvine
University of Washington
New School University
National Judicial College, University of Nevada
Georgetown University Law Center Alma materStanford University
University of California, Los Angeles SpouseGeoffrey Loftus (m. 1968–1991) ParentsRebecca Fishman, Sidney Fishman EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University BooksThe myth of repressed memory, Eyewitness testimony, Witness for the defense, Memory, Mind at Play: The Psycholo Similar PeopleKatherine Ketcham, Hermann Ebbinghaus, Patrick Suppes, Robert Zajonc, Sarnoff A Mednick
Elizabeth loftus the fiction of memory
Elizabeth F. Loftus (born Elizabeth Fishman, October 16, 1944) is an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory. She has conducted extensive research on the malleability of human memory. Loftus is best known for her ground-breaking work on the misinformation effect and eyewitness memory, and the creation and nature of false memories, including recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. As well as her prolific work inside the laboratory, Loftus has been heavily involved in applying her research to legal settings; she has consulted or provided expert witness testimony for hundreds of cases. Loftus has been recognized throughout the world for her work, receiving numerous awards and honorary degrees. In 2002, Loftus was ranked 58th in the Review of General Psychology’s list of the 100 most influential psychological researchers of the 20th century, and was the highest ranked woman on the list.
Inside the psychologist studio with elizabeth loftus
Loftus grew up in Bel Air, California. Her parents were Sidney and Rebecca Fishman; her father was a doctor and her mother a librarian. When Loftus was 14 years old, her mother drowned. In 1968, Loftus married fellow psychologist Geoffrey Loftus, divorcing in 1991 but remaining friends. Loftus has no children.
Loftus received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and psychology with highest honors from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966. She received her MA in 1967 and Ph.D in 1970 (both in mathematical psychology and both from Stanford University), the only woman in her cohort. Her thesis was entitled "An Analysis of the Structural Variables That Determine Problem-Solving Difficulty on a Computer-Based Teletype." Loftus took her first academic appointment in 1970 at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Her research during her time there focused on the organization of semantic information in longterm memory. However Loftus soon realized she wanted to do research with greater social relevance. Loftus attributes this realization in part to a conversation with an acquaintance to whom she was describing her findings about semantic memory, who wondered at the cost of the research compared to its value.
The misinformation effect
In 1973 Loftus accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Washington and used the new position to begin a new line of research into how memory works in real-world settings, beginning the empirical study of eyewitness testimony. One of the first studies she conducted was the reconstruction of automobile destruction study, which was designed to investigate whether eyewitness memory can be altered by information supplied to them after an event. Previous studies had established that memories were not necessarily accurate representations of actual events but were actually constructed using past experiences and other manipulations. The study showed that the way in which questions were worded altered the memories subjects reported. Loftus’ next step was to investigate whether asking leading questions, or providing misleading information in other forms, might also affect people’s memory for the original event. To answer this question she developed the misinformation effect paradigm, which demonstrated that the memories of eyewitnesses are altered after being exposed to incorrect information about an event and that memory is highly malleable and open to suggestion. The misinformation effect became one of the most influential and widely known effects in psychology, and Loftus’ early work on the effect generated hundreds of follow-up studies examining factors that improve or worsen the accuracy of memories, and to explored the cognitive mechanisms underlying the effect.
Loftus has testified and advised courts about the nature of eyewitness memory for many cases. This direct involvement with the application of her work to the legal system grew from an article Loftus published in 1974 about the relationship between findings from psychological science and the witness testimony in a murder trial she had observed, in which conflicting witness memory played a key role in the evidence. Lawyers who read the article began to contact Loftus to consult her about their cases, and judges requested educational seminars about eyewitness evidence, so she began her work as an educator of legal practitioners. In 1975 Loftus set a legal precedent when she provided Washington State’s first expert testimony about eyewitness memory (specifically, on the topic of eyewitness identification). She has since testified in over 250 cases and consulted on many more.
Notable cases she has been involved in due to her expertise include the McMartin preschool trial, O.J. Simpson, the trials of mass murderers Ted Bundy, Willie Mak, and Angelo Bueno, the Abscam cases, the trial of Oliver North, the trial of the officers accused in the Rodney King beating, the trial of the Menendez brothers, the Bosnian War trials in the Hague, the Oklahoma City bombing case, and litigation involving Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Lewis "Scooter" Libby and the Duke University Lacrosse team.
The memory wars
In the early 1990s, the focus of Loftus’ work shifted to investigating whether it was possible to implant false memories for entire events that had never taken place. The impetus for this new line of research was a case for which Loftus had been asked to provide expert testimony in 1990. The unique point in this case was that George Franklin stood accused of murder, but the only evidence against him was provided by his daughter, Eileen Franklin-Lipsker, who claimed that she had initially repressed the memory of him raping and murdering her childhood friend, Susan Nason, 20 years earlier, and had only recently recovered it while undergoing therapy. Loftus gave evidence about the malleability of memory, but had to concede that she did not know of any research about the particular kind of memory Franklin-Lipsker was claiming to have; Franklin was convicted (though in 1996 he was released upon appeal).
At that time, many others were also making accusations, both in and out of court, based on recovered memories of trauma. Loftus began work to find out whether some of these recovered memories might in fact be false memories, created by the suggestive techniques used by some therapists at the time and encouraged in some self-help books. Ethically, she could not try to convince research subjects that they had been sexually abused by a relative as a child, so Loftus had to come up with a paradigm that involved childhood trauma without causing harm to subjects. Her student Jim Coan developed the lost in the mall technique. The method involves attempting to implant a false memory of being lost in a shopping mall as a child and testing whether discussing a false event could produce a "memory" despite never happening. In her initial study, Loftus found that 25% of subjects came to develop a "memory" for the event which had never actually taken place. Extensions and variations of the lost in the mall technique found that an average of one third of experimental subjects could become convinced that they experienced things in childhood that had never really occurred—even highly traumatic, and impossible events. Loftus’ work was used to oppose recovered memory evidence provided in court and resulted in stricter requirements for the use of recovered memories being used in trials as well as a greater requirement for corroborating evidence. In addition, some states no longer allowed prosecution based on recovered memory testimony and insurance companies were more reluctant to insure therapists against malpractice suits relating to recovered memories.
Criticisms and harassment related to research
Loftus’ first study using the lost in the mall technique was criticized by Lynn Crook and Martha Dean based on the ethics of the subject recruitment method used. Also, Kenneth Pope has argued she inappropriately generalized the findings to draw conclusions about false memories and therapeutic techniques. These writers purported to identify errors, exaggerations, and omissions in her research. Loftus published a rebuttal to these critics and stated that the criticisms appeared to be based on personal animosity rather than a valid understanding of the research. Regarding the ethics of the creation of the study, Loftus stated that it was primarily a colleague who piloted the study with his daughter, and later revisited the idea as part of an undergraduate class she was teaching. She also emphasized that participants demonstrated no adverse effects upon follow-up and pointed out that the study design and findings had been replicated repeatedly, demonstrating the soundness of the conclusions. In addition to opposition from fellow researchers, Loftus has been insulted by a prosecutor, attacked by an airplane passenger who recognized her, received hate mail and death threats, and has had to have protection by security guards while giving invited addresses.
After criticizing the theory of recovered memory and testifying about the nature of memory and false allegations of child sexual abuse as part of the day care sex abuse hysteria, Loftus was subject to on-line harassment by conspiracy theorist Diana Napolis, who believed Loftus was engaged in satanic ritual abuse or assisted in covering up these crimes as part of a larger conspiracy.
"Jane Doe" case
The case that has arguably had the biggest negative impact on Loftus is that of "Jane Doe" (real name Nicole Taus). In 1997, David Corwin and his colleague Erna Olafson published a case study of an apparently bona fide case of an accurate, recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse. Skeptical, Loftus and her colleague Melvin Guyer decided to investigate further. Using public records and interviewing people connected to Taus, they uncovered information Corwin had not included in his original article—information that they thought strongly suggested Taus' memory of abuse was false. While Loftus and Guyer were conducting their investigation, Taus contacted the University of Washington and accused Loftus of breaching her privacy. In response, the university confiscated Loftus’ files and put Loftus under investigation for 21 months, forbidding her to share her findings in the meantime. She was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing by the university, and allowed to publish her findings in 2002.
In 2003, Loftus, the University of Washington and a few others were sued by Taus regarding the 2002 publication. The suit initially involved allegations of invasion of privacy, defamation, fraud, and infliction of emotional distress; 21 counts and causes of action in total. However, in February, 2007 the Supreme Court of California dismissed all but one count under strategic lawsuit against public participation legislation. The single remaining count was Taus' claim that Loftus had misrepresented herself as Corwin's supervisor in interviewing Taus' foster mother. The case was settled in August 2007 when Loftus' insurance company agreed to a nuisance settlement of $7,500 rather than cover the cost of a trial for the one remaining allegation. Taus was ordered to pay the legal bills for all of the defendants, which amounted to $450,578.50. This order was subsequently appealed. Loftus published her own analysis of the case in 2009.
In 2002, Loftus left the University of Washington and her Seattle home of 29 years to work at the University of California, Irvine where she is a Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and a Professor of Law, and of Cognitive Science in the Departments of Psychology and Social Behavior, and Criminology, Law, and Society. She is also director of The Center for Psychology and Law and a Fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Loftus’ work since arriving at UCI has looked at the behavioral consequences and potential benefits of false memories, such as the ability of false memories to reduce the desire to eat certain foods.
In her acceptance speech for the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, Loftus states that the word "freedom" is personally important to her, as when she began speaking out about repressed memory, she never imagined she would become "the target of organized, relentless vitriol and harassment". Loftus feels that today's world for science is a perilous one and if scientists want to preserve their freedoms they need to speak out "against even the most cherished beliefs that reflect unsubstantiated myths".
Loftus has also received seven honorary degrees in a variety of fields.
Positions of leadership and affiliations
Loftus is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry's Executive Council. She is a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. She has also been a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists since 1990.
Loftus has been the president of the Association for Psychological Science (1998–99), the Western Psychological Association (1984, 2004-5), and the American Psychology-Law Society. She was on the governing board of the Psychonomic Society (1990–1995). She was also on the board of directors for the Institute for the Study of the Trial (1979–81).
Significant journal articles
"Reconstructing memory: The incredible eyewitness". Psychology Today8: 116–119. 1974.
—; Palmer, J.C. (1974). "Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory". Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior13: 585–589. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(74)80011-3.
"Leading questions and the eyewitness report". Cognitive Psychology7: 560–572. 1975. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(75)90023-7.
—; Miller, D.G.; Burns, H.J. (1978). "Semantic integration of verbal information into a visual memory". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory4: 19–31. doi:10.1037/0278-7318.104.22.168.
"The malleability of human memory". American Scientist67: 312–320. 1979.
"Silence is not golden". American Psychologist38: 564–572. 1983. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.38.5.564.
—; Manning, C.; Loftus, E.F.; Sherman, S.J. (1996). "Imagination Inflation: Imagining a childhood event inflates confidence that it occurred". Psychonomic Bulletin and Review3: 208–214. doi:10.3758/bf03212420.
"Illusions of Memory". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society142: 60–73. 1998.
"Lost in the mall: Misrepresentations and misunderstandings". Ethics & Behavior9 (1): 51–60. 1999. doi:10.1207/s15327019eb0901_4. PMID 11657488.
Mazzoni, G.A.L.; —; Kirsch, I. (2001). "Changing beliefs about implausible autobiographical events". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied7 (1): 51–59. doi:10.1037/1076-898x.7.1.51.
—; Guyer, M. (May–June 2002). "Who abused Jane Doe?: The hazards of the single case history. Part I". Skeptical Inquirer26 (3). pp. 24–32.
—; Guyer, M. J. (July–August 2002). "Who abused Jane Doe? Part II". Skeptical Inquirer26 (4). pp. 37–40, 44.
Bernstein, D.M.; Laney, C.; Morris, E.K.; — (2005). "False beliefs about fattening foods can have healthy consequences". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences102: 13724–13731. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504869102. PMC 1236554. PMID 16079200.
Berkowitz, S.R.; Laney, C.; Morris, E.K.; Garry, M.; et al. (2008). "Pluto Behaving Badly: False beliefs and their consequences". American Journal of Psychology121: 643–660. doi:10.2307/20445490.
Learning. Mednick, S.A., Pollio, R. H. & Loftus, E.F. (1973). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Human Memory: The Processing of Information. Loftus, G.R. & Loftus, E.F. (1976) Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Loftus attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposium in November 2006. She was a keynote speaker at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in 2011, held in Glasgow on May 4–6. She was also the keynote speaker at The Psychonomic Society Annual Meeting in 2013, held in Toronto, Canada on November 14–16.