CM 050: Julia Shaw on the Science of Memory

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Blog Post - Julia ShawCan you trust your memory? Probably not.

Research shows that we can be convinced fairly easily that we are guilty of a crime we did not commit. We not only misremember information, but we can misremember information about the wrong person. Add to that the fact that when someone else tells us how they remember something, it can alter our memory of that same event, person, or situation.

These insights, along with many others from memory research, are changing how we think about law and order, learning, and what makes us human. False memory researcher and criminal psychologist, Julia Shaw, is one of only a handful of experts in the field. A senior lecturer and researcher in the Department of Law and Social Sciences at London South Bank University and author of The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory, she works with members of the military and law enforcement. She is also a regular contributor to Scientific American.

In this interview, we talk about:

  • What the blue-gold dress phenomenon revealed about how our brains work
  • Why we need less evidence to convict someone who looks less trustworthy
  • Why we form stronger memories when others are same race, age, or gender
  • Why we reminisce most strongly about moments from our teens and 20s
  • Why we have rosy memories of most of our firsts in life
  • What actually happens in our brains when we form a memory
  • How memories get stamped in our brains
  • The fact that we simply cannot multitask – it is humanly impossible – and why
  • Why it is that whenever we remember we also forget
  • How to get someone to think they saw Bugs Bunny at Disneyland
  • Why we should write things down rather than try to remember them
  • Why understanding how unreliable our memories can be is liberating
  • How attention is the glue between reality and your memory
  • The vital importance of sleep to build lasting memories
  • How we all suffer from overconfidence when it comes to our memories
  • Why there is a right way to ask questions when we need to gather information
  • How to avoid asking leading questions that may create false memories
  • How photos can prompt false memories
  • The fact that we implant false memories in each other all the time
  • How creating memories with others may ensure more accurate memories
  • How social media can result in muddled memories
  • Why we need to continually update memories to learn
  • Why the flexibility of our brains — and our memories — is a beautiful thing
  • How we can convince people they committed crimes that never happened
  • How false memory research can change the legal system
  • How we can mistake the false memories of others for lying

Selected Links to Topics Mentioned


London South Bank University

The Dress

Own race bias

Reminiscence bump


Retrieval-induced forgetting

The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

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