Elizabeth Loftus: Experiments, Theories & Contributions to Psychology

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  • 0:02 Elizabeth Loftus
  • 1:41 The Theory
  • 2:25 Experiments
  • 3:42 Psychological Contributions
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leslie Bartley

Leslie currently teaches various psychology courses while also working on her PhD in human behavior.

The following lesson will discuss memory and the information discovered by one of the foremost researchers in the field, Elizabeth Loftus. She is known for her work on understanding how memories are created.

Elizabeth Loftus - The Psychologist

Do you remember your fourth birthday party? Can you recall the activities, the type of cake, and how your little brother threw a temper tantrum? Chances are, you can't. But now you're going to think about it and possibly recollect that memory. But is it going to be real?

Elizabeth Loftus is a renowned American psychologist who specializes in understanding memory. More importantly, she focused her research and theories on the controversial idea that memories are not always accurate and the notion that repressed memories can be false memories created by the brain. This controversial theory actually stems from a traumatic event from Elizabeth's childhood.

When Loftus was 14, her mother drowned in the family pool. While discussing the tragedy with a family member years later, she could not recall the events surrounding her mother's death. Her uncle suggested that perhaps Loftus could not remember the incident because she had been the one who had found her mother floating in the pool. After this revelation, Loftus began racking her brain for any memory of what had occurred. Eventually, she did recall the horrific event and began to process her emotional reactions to her mother's death. Shortly after uncovering these memories and coming to peace with the death, Loftus's uncle contacted her to say that he had been incorrect. It was actually her aunt who had found Loftus's mother drowned in the pool.

The Theory

After this disturbing situation, Loftus came to the realization that memories are not always accurate and that the human brain is highly vulnerable to suggestion. In other words, your brain can make up memories to fill in gaps of information that is unknown. Her theory added to the debate about the topic of repressed memories. Repressed memories are memories that are pushed away from regular awareness and then come into regular thought years later. Loftus suggested that perhaps repressed memories are not memories of actual events, but rather ideas that are created from a combination of waking and dreaming situations.

Experiments

Aside from her own personal experience of false repressed memories, Loftus conducted ground-breaking experiments to demonstrate just how easily manipulated our memories can be. One of her more commonly known experiments is the lost-in-a-mall study. Within this study, she and her team asked children to recall the time they were lost in a shopping mall. With suggestions and relevant questions, the child participants were able to recreate a very vibrant and vivid memory that depicted that scenario. The problem is, it never happened.

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