Have you ever talked with a friend about something you did together? It can be a simple thing. Maybe you went kayaking together a few summers ago, and you camped at the end of the trip. You remember that it was a warm and sunny day, and you remark to your friend on how lucky it was that you got such great weather.
Your friend gets confused. She says that it rained that night. It was sunny for part of the day, but you certainly didn’t have ideal weather. She remembers it much differently than you.
Who is right? It’s impossible for the two of you to tell without doing more research. You both honestly think that you remember the event correctly. You can picture it in your mind. Neither one of you has anything to lose or gain through lying. And yet you can’t agree on how the trip went. What happened?
The truth is that researchers now know that memory changes with time and with recall. You can alter it. Bringing it up again – to talk about it or just to think about it on your own – can change what you think you remember.
Maybe you went on two trips that summer. One was sunny and the other wasn’t. Over time, you started merging the memories.
Or maybe your friend read a news story about some other campers who got caught in a storm around the same time. They slowly started adapting those details to their own story unintentionally and now they “remember” that they actually got caught in a storm.
It happens. Memory is fragile. It changes often. You can forget details or add in new ones. Other things you get exposed to – movies, news reports, stories, conversations with friends – can change what you think you know.
The legal side
You may already find yourself imagining the legal implications. A witness who remembers a crime could get the details completely wrong. Maybe they witnessed the crime and then saw another news story in which you were featured. They are now convinced that they saw you at the scene, even though you never went there.
Again, the witness may not intentionally lie. They think they are being honest, and it can make them very convincing to the jury. But that does not mean that what they remember is what really happened or how things really played out.
If you find yourself facing legal charges and you think that the witnesses against you are making critical errors, you must know all of the legal defense options that you have.