Do you remember what you had for lunch last Monday? What about your Spring Break trip in college? What about Christmas morning when you were 12 years old?
You probably have all sorts of memories from different times in your life. You trust those memories. To you, they feel accurate and solid.
However, they may not be real at all, especially as you move farther and farther from the event. It turns out that your brain is constantly overwriting that information when you think about it or recall it. Some have compared it to the “telephone game” where participants whisper a message to each other and see how accurate it is at the end. It changes a little bit each time, and it’s much different for the last person.
“A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event — it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said an author and a postdoctoral fellow who studied it. “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”
Of course, one of the first things people think about when they hear something like that is what impact it can have on criminal cases. If they ask a witness to tell the jury what happened, can that witness provide a trustworthy account?
“Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted,” the author noted when asked directly about that issue. “After that, it keeps going downhill.”
If you think that these types of issues are going to impact your case, make very sure you’re aware of the legal rights you have.