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Kavanaugh’s Accuser and the Sticky Issue of Witness and Victim Memory

Kavanaugh’s Accuser and the Sticky Issue of Witness and Victim Memory

To tell the truth

There are a lot of problems with the Kavanaugh accuser’s story, including the fact that it’s possible that she may be deliberately lying for political reasons.

But even if she’s not purposely lying, there are many problems connected with the phenomenon of memory itself, particularly after all these years.

Juries set great store by eyewitness testimony of all kinds, and in particular by that of victims. But bona fide victims can be very mistaken, and in sex crimes there have been many imprisoned men convicted by witness/victim testimony who have later been exonerated by DNA testing. It is very troubling indeed.

Research tells us about it [emphasis mine]:

The uncritical acceptance of eyewitness accounts may stem from a popular misconception of how memory works. Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.

Many researchers have created false memories in normal individuals; what is more, many of these subjects are certain that the memories are real. In one well-known study, Loftus and her colleague Jacqueline Pickrell gave subjects written accounts of four events, three of which they had actually experienced. The fourth story was fiction; it centered on the subject being lost in a mall or another public place when he or she was between four and six years old. A relative provided realistic details for the false story, such as a description of the mall at which the subject’s parents shopped. After reading each story, subjects were asked to write down what else they remembered about the incident or to indicate that they did not remember it at all. Remarkably about one third of the subjects reported partially or fully remembering the false event. In two follow-up interviews, 25 percent still claimed that they remembered the untrue story, a figure consistent with the findings of similar studies.

More here [emphasis mine]:

The process of interpretation occurs at the very formation of memory—thus introducing distortion from the beginning. Furthermore, witnesses can distort their own memories without the help of examiners, police officers or lawyers.

I will add here that many of us “tell” stories of our memories over and over to ourselves, and that affects the story as well.

Continued [emphasis mine]:

Once witnesses state facts in a particular way or identify a particular person as the perpetrator, they are unwilling or even unable—due to the reconstruction of their memory—to reconsider their initial understanding. When a witness identifies a person in a line-up, he is likely to identify that same person in later line-ups, even when the person identified is not the perpetrator…

Bias creeps into memory without our knowledge, without our awareness. While confidence and accuracy are generally correlated, when misleading information is given, witness confidence is often higher for the incorrect information than for the correct information. This leads many to question the competence of the average person to determine credibility issues.

At least in a court of law there are various protections built in to help the defendant. The Kavanaugh accuser’s story—as it stands now, without important details, and of such antiquity—almost certainly could not stand in a court of law. But even if, between now and some hypothetical trial, the accuser managed to flesh out more of those details, she would be harshly criticized by a defense attorney for having suddenly “remembered” the details she couldn’t come up with years ago or even a few months ago. That would be highly suspect.

However, in testimony before Congress, there are no such protections for the accused, and people tend to see what they want to see. The standard of proof is very different than the legal standard, and is more likely to favor the accuser. That’s one of many reasons why this particular situation is so pernicious.

As for false memories that emerge in therapy:

Some memory errors are so “large” that they almost belong in a class of their own: false memories. Back in the early 1990s a pattern emerged whereby people would go into therapy for depression and other everyday problems, but over the course of the therapy develop memories for violent and horrible victimhood (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994). These patients’ therapists claimed that the patients were recovering genuine memories of real childhood abuse, buried deep in their minds for years or even decades. But some experimental psychologists believed that the memories were instead likely to be false—created in therapy. These researchers then set out to see whether it would indeed be possible for wholly false memories to be created by procedures similar to those used in these patients’ therapy.

The answer was that yes, they could, in a substantial number of people. Some people resist false memories, but a “substantial minority” are vulnerable to them. It’s a very troublesome phenomenon. And many of these false memories emerge in the context of therapy. In order to judge the likelihood of a memory of trauma being a false memory, one would have to know many details of the therapeutic sessions to see how much leading was done by the therapist, how the story emerged, and in what initial detail. It is literally impossible to judge the veracity of any story that comes out in a therapeutic session unless there’s a lot of independent corroboration.

The Kavanaugh accuser’s story came out in marital therapy. We know nothing about the dynamics of the revelation and no details whatsoever, except that the therapist’s notes did not include any names of the alleged perpetrators, and differed from the accuser’s current story as to the numbers. This is telling, and suggests at the very least a mutable, changeable memory.

Is a Congressional hearing any way to discuss these very important and very troubling issues? I can’t imagine that it would be. For one thing, questioning the veracity of the memory opens the questioners up to the charge of “disbelieving and re-traumatizing the victim.” But alleged victims can lie—and sometimes they lie without even realizing it.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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Particularly troublesome if the therapist is trying to create a basis for explaining the patient’s later actions. This repressed memory issue is bad. As noted above…. the reason for the marital therapy is a major key. The therapist’s own history is very important. Driven home during the psych rotation was that the therapist must filter out all bias within themselves when dealing with a patient.

As noted in the other thread, the leak of the notes is problematic:

1- Therapist “shared” the notes with her patient???
2- The notes were saved and only select portions shared.
3- The notes don’t call Kavanugh out by name.

I would love to see an adult question that.

I’m just now reading the “Undoing Project” by the guy who wrote moneyball. There is a theme in there where the main figure who was a holocaust survivor, remembers people from his childhood who did not exist. When he tracked down the supposed people and discovered his memories were completely untrue- he began to question everything. This gives unworthy credence to the old joke- who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes.

In other news, Joe Biden could be innocent of every groping caught on camera for his entire career.

Our capacity to recall events and the nature of those memories (real or imagined) are major plot point in literature and film. And for good reason. We simply don’t remember things the way they seem to have happened.

    MattMusson in reply to Tiki. | September 20, 2018 at 6:50 am

    The human brain is tricky. There are a lot people who remember 35 year old things that NEVER happened. And, when there are gaps in the story, the brain will fill in with whatever is handy or makes sense in the narrative.

From first hand experience I know how easy it is to create false memories

when I was a teenager (at the dinner table) I started telling my 10/12 year old sister got lost along some highway outside of town when she was only 4 or 5 years old. I was making up the story as I went, basically blowing smoke with pretty obvious BS. A few other siblings added a few additional details. The little sister believed everything we told that happened. Only usual thing was that the parents didnt tell us to quit teasing the little sister.

An additonal comment was made on another site that indicated that the scuttlebut and the golf country club where christine’s family had a membership was that she had a reputation of a troubled teen. possibly explains her going into psychaitry which is a profession that attracts individuals with issues.

    G. de La Hoya in reply to Joe-dallas. | September 19, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    I have met a number of therapists and counselors in social settings and I agree wholeheartedly with you. Nothing but nutballs that think they got their sh*t together and they want to ‘fix’ everyone and I love yanking their chain for fun 🙂

The clincher however is Dr. Ford’s refusal to testify under oath before the Senate next week (assuming that status remains unchanged). That marks Dr. Ford as a fraudster/liar.

    CaptTee in reply to Marco100. | September 20, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Isn’t it an unreconcilable contradiction to write to a Senator about a nominee and request anonymity at the same time, while signing her name?

    The act of writing is a request for 15 minutes of fame!

      Bisley in reply to CaptTee. | September 20, 2018 at 10:08 pm

      Beyond that, it’s not likely anyone would write such a letter to a senator out of the blue. What purpose would it serve? It’s more likely this was planned and coordinated with Feinstein long ago. Even if she doesn’t testify (which she would be wise not to do), she can keep demanding conditions to testify which can never be met, and delay this as long as there are Republicans stupid enough to go along with it.

There are quite a few little details that lead one to question the credibility of the story, and it’s always the small details that trip up a storyteller.

First, a party with 4 teen boys and only 1 teen girl, in a nice house but with no adults present, and nobody knows where they are? That sounds like a classic fantasy setup right from the start. And then, she says she left, but has no knowledge of how she got home. Huh? She was 15, too young for a drivers license, so she didn’t drive. 15 year olds aren’t known for carrying enough money to hire a taxi, and how would she call anyways? This was way before everyone had personal phones. She didn’t walk, because that would mean that she lived in the neighborhood, but then she would have easily remembered where this house was, but she says she’s forgotten it completely.

It’s actually not hard at all to guess why she doesn’t remember this part – that’s because in the fantasy/dreamworld, boring details like arranging basic transportation get left out. Sure, she felt the experience in her mind – and then the next second, she opened her eyes and found herself laying on the analysts couch.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Tom Servo. | September 19, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    That is another problem when dealing with events that happened far in the past. People hearing those memories tend to put them in the context of the current time with the current technology. This was the early 80’s things were much different then.

    I have to partly disagree with you. I can think of many high school memories where I can recall specific details of a party but not recall how I got there or how I got home that have nothing to do with alcohol or drugs, but rather because I can’t tie a specific event to a specific memory of going or coming home. In many cases, I can remember parties with blurry general details but would not want to rely on memory regarding who i was with or who was at the party – again 0 not because of being impaired, but because that’s all the memory that remains. I also recall an afternoon in High School I went to a house with a boy (who was a) friend and there were no parents, I was the only girl with about 6 teen boys. Nothing bad happened, everyone was kind and no one was predatory, but I was offered some dope, which I declined but my friend did not. I remember I was very happy to get out of there, to the degree I can remember the smell of fresh, cool garden air walking out the door. I can recall some details very clearly, like the pathway to the house and to this day, I know exactly which house it was, but …though I can remember in my mind’s eye the room with people sitting around in it and the lighting coming through windows, I can’t see any of their faces, not even the boy I went with. In fact, thinking about it right now, I’m not even 100% sure it was that friend I went with, because I can’t see his face in my memory, i just remember it was him from logic more than from him being in my recall video. However, I do recall the guy whose house it was and I can vaguely see him in my minds eye because I have retold the story and named him in the retelling of the story due to the dope being smoked and the fact that he was an outsider to our school. I believe I rode my bike there, because normally that’s what we would have done, and my memory semi-involves getting off and on my white bike…or was it my silver one…hmmm, but it’s even possible we drove over.

    I’m just relaying this because I do believe that she could be at a big house with no parents home, and not recall exactly who was there or the mode of transportation. I don’t think denying that could happen is helpful in moving beyond this.

    But here’s the thing. By her account this was a life-changing traumatic event, but she can recall even less than I can and she wants to derail this nomination? Apparently it was not traumatic enough to remember any details until 2012. Give a break. Why are we all spending life’s time on a woman who has connections to Fusion GPS, hates Trump and “suddenly” remembers Kavanaugh is the face in her memory, a man who just so happened went on to fame and greatness – fame and greatness she despises.

    The Dem’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. That we give their dirty tricks so much time and energy is just crazy!

      Joe-dallas in reply to elle. | September 20, 2018 at 9:16 am

      I agree with your assessment of piece-meal memory of events.

      I likewise have vivid memories of short segments of events, but often cant even place the time year. often times it is easier to remember the time of year, than the year.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to elle. | September 20, 2018 at 10:01 am

      The difference in the question of memory in this is that you did not suffer what you claim to be a significant trauma at any of those parties. The reason you can’t remember those parties is because there was no significant trauma.

        Joe-dallas in reply to Gremlin1974. | September 20, 2018 at 11:03 am

        Lack of significant trauma – that is one of the points I have previously made.

        The description of the event appears to be more of a teenage guy attempting to get to second base (skipping first base). It doesnt come across to me anything even approaching attempted rape. Seems the girl imagination/paranoia inflated the event well beyond what actually happened.

        Its not uncommon for individuals with issues such as paranoia to inflate events beyond reality.

      Edward in reply to elle. | September 20, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      And associated with these failures of memory you suffered what you consider to be a traumatic event? Or would a drunken groping incident cause you to better recollect the party/surrounding events?

From what I’ve read, the story Ford is telling is not an example of a previously repressed memory but one that Ford says she knew but did not disclose, and that the martial therapy lead her to speak of it because she reevaluated it’s significance to her relationship to her husband.

I don’t think this makes her story any more credible. As Neo discusses above, the act of recalling the incident under questioning may have altered Ford’s recollection, depending on how leading the questions were, and it still lacks details important to establishing a connection to Kavanaugh.

I have often wondered if Ford maybe compositing several similar incidents into one narrative. This might account for her inability to give a specific location and a narrower time frame than several months to a year, but provide other details like how she was dressed and the music being turned up. Also, considering this was marriage therapy, I wonder if she wasn’t describing one or possibly more attempts at larping a Jackie Coakley/Haven Monahan scenario to win a boy’s affection as a teen. Arrange a ‘party’ with the boys and maybe another confederate, lead the victim on and into an intimate setting (while wearing a one piece under her clothes to keep him safely away from the good stuff), and then hope her hero would become suspicious and rescue her. Her claimed ending of the incident with Judge tackling Kavanaugh certainly fits, and the reevaluation was probably that the scenario hardly ever worked.

It’s hard, though, to determine where her non-political motives might end and tactical embellishments to implicate Kavanaugh begin.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Christopher B. | September 19, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    The fact that is came out in couples therapy makes the claim/memory even more suspect to me. If she did “re-evaluate” the incidents significance and impact on her marriage, there is also the possibility that she (knowingly or not) embellished the memory to help explain troubles in her marriage.

    She brought up that incident so she could blame it on her refusal to have marital relations with her husband. Bet money. Her way of controlling him. I know that one…

I have never encountered a “recovered memory” that was in fact accurate. Never. It is a psychological myth and often used to aggrandize the person creating the fabrication.

Fun experiment that ALWAYS works:

See if you can keep count of how many times the players in white shirts pass the ball. Keep your eye on the ball! I’ll be back in ten minutes with the answer.

This whole thing smacks of the Rolling Stone smear against that fraternity.

I know the one boy who that girl had a “crush” on…..and this delusional girl nearly stole his future, and the future of any of those frat brothers.

This woman is clearly making this up – her demand that the FBI investigate BEFORE she will even discuss her story in either public or private with the Senate Committee shows it is ALL ABOUT THE DELAY.

I say – if she does not agree by tomorrow at Noon to come before the Senate next Monda, then they should call the vote for Thursday afternoon! (I am guessing she will testify……this is all drama, IMHO, to drag out the media nightmare/saga……)


I suspect this isn’t memory, it’s fantasy. Fantasy driven by a political agenda, justified be the idea that it’s metaphorically true, in the accuser’s mind.

She’s just lying. It’s a plan by the Marxist party.