Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit

Douglas Starr, New Yorker, March 5, 2015

In 1906, Hugo Münsterberg, the chair of the psychology laboratory at Harvard University and the president of the American Psychological Association, wrote in the Times Magazine about a case of false confession. A woman had been found dead in Chicago, garroted with a copper wire and left in a barnyard, and the simpleminded farmer’s son who had discovered her body stood accused. The young man had an alibi, but after questioning by police he admitted to the murder. He did not simply confess, Münsterberg wrote; “he was quite willing to repeat his confession again and again. Each time it became richer in detail.” The young man’s account, he continued, was “absurd and contradictory,” a clear instance of “the involuntary elaboration of a suggestion” from his interrogators. Münsterberg cited the Salem witch trials, in which similarly vulnerable people were coerced into self-incrimination. He shared his opinion in a letter to a Chicago nerve specialist, which made the local press. A week later, the farmer’s son was hanged.

Münsterberg was ahead of his time. It would be decades before the legal and psychological communities began to understand how powerfully suggestion can shape memory and, in turn, the course of justice. In the early nineteen-nineties, American society was recuperating from another panic over occult influence; Satanists had replaced witches. One case, the McMartin Preschool trial, hinged on nine young victims’ memories of molestation and ritual abuse–memories that they had supposedly forgotten and then, after being interviewed, recovered. The case fell apart, in 1990, because the prosecution could produce no persuasive evidence of the victims’ claims. A cognitive psychologist named Elizabeth Loftus, who had consulted on the case, wondered whether the children’s memories might have been fabricated–in Münsterberg’s formulation, involuntarily elaborated–rather than actually recovered.

To test her theory, Loftus gave a group of volunteers the rudimentary outlines of a childhood experience: getting lost in a mall and being rescued by a kindly adult. She told the subjects, falsely, that the scenario was real and had taken place when they were young. (For verisimilitude, Loftus asked their parents for biographical details that she could plant in each story.) Then she debriefed the subjects twice, with the interviews separated by one or two weeks. By the second interview, six of the twenty-four test subjects had internalized the story, weaving in sensory and emotional details of their own. Loftus and other researchers have since used similar techniques to create false memories of near-drownings, animal attacks, and encounters with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland (impossible, since Bugs is a Warner Bros. character).

Earlier this year, two forensic psychologists–Julia Shaw, of the University of Bedfordshire, and Stephen Porter, of the University of British Columbia–upped the ante. Writing in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, they described a method for implanting false memories, not of getting lost in childhood but of committing a crime in adolescence. They modeled their work on Loftus’s, sending questionnaires to each of their participant’s parents to gather background information. (Any past run-ins with the law would eliminate a student from the study.) Then they divided the students into two groups and told each a different kind of false story. One group was prompted to remember an emotional event, such as getting attacked by a dog. The other was prompted to remember a crime–an assault, for example–that led to an encounter with the police. At no time during the experiments were the participants allowed to communicate with their parents.

What Shaw and Porter found astonished them. “We thought we’d have something like a thirty-per-cent success rate, and we ended up having over seventy,” Shaw told me. “We only had a handful of people who didn’t believe us.” After three debriefing sessions, seventy-six per cent of the students claimed to remember the false emotional event; nearly the same amount–seventy per cent–remembered the fictional crime. Shaw and Porter hadn’t put undue stress on the students; in fact, they had treated them in a friendly way. All it took was a suggestion from an authoritative source, and the subjects’ imaginations did the rest. As Münsterberg observed of the farmer’s son, the students seemed almost eager to self-incriminate.

{snip}

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  • TruthBeTold

    If you’re seriously into this topic I would suggest you google: ‘Frontline: The Confessions’ to see how easily multiple people can be manipulated to make false confessions.

    And youtube: ‘Don’t Talk to the Police’

    • a multiracial individual

      If you are being interrogated never say a word until your lawyer gets there. It is pretty shady how cops illicit confessions from people.

      • IstvanIN

        Not only does a false confession punish and innocent person but it does nothing to capture the real perpetrator, who is free to go on with his crimes.

  • Likewise, using the power of suggestion, certain college students can be made to believe that they’re life long victims of racism and discrimination.

    • WR_the_realist

      Likewise white college students can be convinced that they’re lifetime racists and have caused massive harm to the diversity.

    • TruthBeTold

      A couple decades ago a feminist wrote a book about remembering sexual abuse by a father. In the book she told women who had no memory of being molested by their father (because they weren’t) to imagine they were molested by their father.

      Women actually did and low and behold they started remembering being molested by their fathers.

      I believe the feminist writer was successfully sued but not before she did irreparable damage to families.

      • LexiconD1

        “Michelle Remembers”, the name of the book?

        Her husband was her psychiatrist that uncovered the ‘memories’. It’s been completely debunked, and he lost his license (If I recall correctly.)

        .

      • Oil Can Harry

        You may be thinking of the infamous book The Courage To Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (1988).

    • Samuel Hathaway

      The nuttiness never ends. On NPR news recently, there was a quack interviewed about how white college students need to monitor themselves about inadvertently making “racist” comments to blacks, no matter how innocent or subtle they might be. This air-head white woman was advising white students to not compliment a black classmate on making good grades. It could be construed as a “surprise”:that someone black is making good grades if you don’t tell a white classmate the same thing who made the same grade.

      • John Smith

        I wouldn’t compliment them, not the least reason of which is that they were given their grade, rather than earned it.

    • Charles Martel

      “Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” ― Heraclitus

  • libertarian1234

    “College students can be made to believe they committed crimes.”

    Yes, and they’re even more easily conditioned than that. They can be made to tolerate black pathologies and deny that there is such a thing.

    Now that we have established their gullibility, should we push for a law that requires home schooling all the way through college and give blacks free rein to run all the colleges at a grade school level?

    I mean, why pay good money out for a “higher” education when all they learn is how to bow before the god of political correctness and hate themselves and their people instead of learning subjects that will do them some good in life?

    • TomIron361

      Mao and Pol Pot (wherever they are) are grinning ear to ear on this confession malarkey. This was right up their alley.

    • listenupbub

      College is good if you are focused on a certain career path.

      But it is getting extremely hard to get most interesting careers.

  • David Ashton

    Could this apply to some war crime confessions – as it did to some victims of the Stalin show-trials?

    • IstvanIN

      Many of the victims at the Nuremberg trials were tortured.

      • David Ashton

        I think you mean the Defendants.

        • TCA

          The defendants were the victims at the Nuremberg “trials.”

    • Fed Up

      Most of those war-crimes confessions by former Nazis were extorted by brutal beatings and torture. There have been numerous well-researched books on the issue. Of course if you get beaten and tortured long enough, you’d confess to anything to make the suffering end.

      • David Ashton

        Many not most. Threats to the families were quite persuasive, in Moscow and Nuremberg. Not everyone was a Magda Goebbels. I am waiting for revisionist researchers to respond in detail to Bettina Stangneth’s “Eichmann before Jerusalem” (Knopf, 2014).

        • Lorax100

          David have you read Nicholas Kollerstrom’s new book, the revisionist one?

          • David Ashton

            Not yet (if I get time): I have seen the adverts. I have read publications by Mattogno, Rudolf, Faurisson, Butz and a few others. My comments on this subject have been deleted, but in summary I think the documented genocidal attitude of Hitler and some other Nazi leaders is played down by the revisionists on one hand, while the numbers actually killed or worked to death in their camps are greatly exaggerated by their establishment opponents. Never mind the credibility of mass-gassing – the central fact was clear from Hitler’s “typical” explanation to Horthy about the fate of Jewish deportees, the authenticity of which record I have yet to see refuted.

            My main complaints about what Novick and Finkelstein call “the Holocaust industry” are (1) that it distracts public attention and compassion away from the victims of other “modern democides”, and (2) it is abused by our “politically correct rulers” to oppose migration control, national identity, “scientific ‘racism'”, and much else.

  • Usually Much Calmer

    Ethics panels at the University of Bedfordshire and the University of British Columbia approved this experiment? Whiskey tango everloving foxtrot?

  • TCA

    Hmmm, false memories about traumatic experiences…..hmmm.

  • libertarian1234

    “Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit”

    Actually the process is similar to the conditioning used to get a white person to hate himself, his people and his culture.

    The procedure is faster under hypnosis, but it works just as well via repetition and intimidation. And conditioning techniques like smiling approval when the proper thoughts are verbalized, and frowning and condemnation if they are not, coupled with other methods utilized for reward and punishment.

    If anyone can visit the schools today and listen in on what passes for debate, they’ll come away wondering how a person can be molded into what amounts to no less than a sect or cult member who accepts nonsensical drivel without question.
    If propagandists want to instill false anythings in the minds of people today, they have a rich, unending source of mind-numbed zombies at the universities to work on.

  • LHathaway

    “One case, the McMartin Preschool trial, hinged on nine young victims’ memories of molestation and ritual abuse–memories that they had supposedly forgotten and then, after being interviewed, recovered”.

    Those are called ‘screen-memories’. I suspect special prosecutors understood this more than anyone, as the entire nation became obsessed with sexual abuse at day care centers around the country. The case of ‘sexual abuse’ were featured heavily in the news around that time. I suspect prosecutors were more aware of ‘screen memories’ than anyone, that is, if all these cases weren’t simply fabricated in the first place. Even to this day, jokes about ‘show us on the doll where you were touched’ can be prevalent. When these stories were mostly debunked the media paid less attention to them.

    • LexiconD1

      They were fabricated. The case began with a Schizophrenic alcoholic ‘Mom’s’ delusions her son was being molested, to those lousy ‘mental health care workers’ who were prompting the kids as to what to say, so they could leave their offices and go home. There’s even been kids who come forward, since the trial, to say they said anything just to get away from the psychologists. See if you can find the interviews, I saw some of them, after the verdict was read, and was stunned by the duplicity in them.

      The McMartin/Bucky family, in particular Ray Bucky, were railroaded by the prosecutors. I have no doubt, if they watched the children being interviewed, they knew the ‘memories’ were completely false, after viewing them, it would be ludicrous to think otherwise.

      • Reynardine

        I tend not to believe psychology, and rather place my trust in three real indicators for human behavior: religion, economics, and biology.

  • LHathaway

    It is when it comes time to get a job. It will be quite valuable, enabling one to get any kind of job, not just in what you studied. At least, if you are a woman or a non-white. If you’re a White man, having that diploma on the wall may be worth more in self esteem than to anybody.

  • Rhialto

    “After three debriefing sessions, seventy-six per cent of the students claimed to remember the false emotional event; nearly the same amount–seventy per cent–remembered the fictional crime.”

    This study thus proves that at least 76% of college enrollment is a total waste. QED!

    • Charles Martel

      equality is letting them in but in ancient Greece they knew better, in fact almost the same numbers.“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” ― Heraclitus

  • LexiconD1

    Well, as my YiaYia (Greek for Grandmother) once told the police, after being held up at gun point by a couple of blacks…”They all look the same to me”…

  • TheMaskedUnit

    Hands Up! Don’t Shoot! ®

  • LHathaway

    They will certainly go on to marry their affirmative action co-workers (they have so much in common). They have so much in common, not because their co-workers also hired through affirmative action policies were born in other nations, but because they have so many similar interests in other kinds of ways.

  • Marilyn

    My husband is a psychologist, I will have to ask him about this.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    It’s not too hard to extrapolate from this study how young whites can be endowed with false memories from the constant bombardment of images on television and the movies of associating with warm, cuddly and intelligent blacks and of most social interactions being happily multicultural.

    Indeed, such images can endow whites with what I call “false friends syndrome” in which whites are convinced that the blacks they see on television are people that they personally associate with. This could explain in large part the whites who live in all white suburbs who spout the old cliche “some of my best friends are black.”

    Lets not underestimate the power of the electronic media in brainwashing whites with politically correct attitudes and mindsets. We’ve never had such a powerful force for brainwashing in the history of mankind, and it is here to stay.

    • Bill Moore

      Hello Tim_in-Indiana,

      A couple of years ago, Putin said that the USA had the best propaganda system he had ever seen. Coming from a Russian president, that’s quite a statement.

      Bill Moore

  • Eagle_Eyed

    I’m guessing most of us would be in the small percentage who didn’t get brainwashed. If you want to know why whites–particularly the young and vulnerable–buy into anti-racism these experiments are helpful. You tell a lie enough it becomes the truth to the feeble-minded and weak-willed.

  • MBlanc46

    Absolutely. They are never on your side. They have a job to do. So does your lawyer.

  • UncleSham

    I can remember brutally whipping my kind-hearted Negro slaves three times a day in the 19th century. The memory of their sad, soulful eyes is almost too much for me to bear. I’ve been trying to repent by encouraging them to have sex with my daughters and to take as much of my income as they need, but I still feel so guilty. I can only hope that they will burn down my neighborhood and murder someone close to me sooner rather than later. Maybe then I can begin to have some peace of mind.

  • 李冠毅

    This reminds me of the use of sleep deprivation as a torture method to “soften-up” prisoners to obtain false confessions. It is said that after days of not being allowed to lie down and sleep, people would begin hallucinating and having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy, and believe whatever it is they are told.

  • Ellis Kurtz

    You might get them to take a look at the YouTube video “Why You Should Never Talk To Police”.

  • John Smith

    Technical trades, such as taught at community colleges now, are less vulnerable to this BS because of how heavily they weight the technical side, rather than humanities.

  • John Smith

    Most are guilty of something.

    “‘Hands up!’ Should the order be not obeyed, shoot, and shoot with
    effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets or
    are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down. You may make
    mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot
    be helped and you are bound to get the right persons sometimes. The more
    you shoot the better I will like you; and I assure you that no
    policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man and I will
    guarantee that your names will not be given at the inquest.”

  • SFLBIB

    colleges barely teach anything useful anymore.”

    Did they ever? The attitude of academia is that a “useful” major is “too vocational” and is therefore “of trade”, a class looked down upon.

  • SFLBIB

    Unfortunately, employers use it as a handy way to screen out applicants.