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Why a witness’s memories may not be accurate

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2021 | Criminal Defense, Drunk Driving, Sex Crimes, Violent Crimes, White Collar Crimes

Odds are that you trust your own memory. When you think of how something happened, who was there or when it happened, you believe that you’re remembering it correctly.

Interestingly, we know just how false this is. First off, there is the anecdotal evidence. Surely you have told a story before, only to have someone else who was there correct a detail. When you realize they’re right, you also realize you have reason to at least doubt your own memories.

More than that, though, we know scientifically that memories change. They’re not nearly as set in stone as we assume.

Recall alters brain networks

At least one study has found that recalling an event could alter brain networks. These changes could impact the way you recall the event in question. Each time you do this, you “update” what you remember.

The easiest way to think of this is to consider the telephone game. The person at the start of the line is given a message, and it is then whispered down the line. By the end, it is often unrecognizable.

Memory is the same way. Each time you remember something, you run the risk of remembering it incorrectly or even updating it with new information so that you think you remember something that you actually do not.

Can we trust witnesses?

This finding is significant when it comes to criminal law because it suggests that witnesses are not always that trustworthy – even when they’re trying to tell the truth. They may think they’re right and still give an inaccurate testimony. That’s just one reason why it’s important to have experienced legal guidance if your future depends on the testimony of others.