Kavanaugh Accuser’s Recollection May Stem from False Memory, Suggests Psychology Professor
Monday on 'The Ingraham Angle,' a frank discussion of the possible source of salacious allegations
Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (shown above right; Ford is at left) could stem from a false memory, Dr. Robert Mather told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham Monday night on “The Ingraham Angle.”
“There’s volumes of research that show, going back to [Dr. Elizabeth] Loftus’ work, that you can implant memories in children, such as being lost in the mall,” said Mather, who is a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Cognitive psychologist and University of California, Irvine professor Elizabeth Loftus is a respected pioneer in false memory research.
She has studied the phenomenon for decades.
“Sometimes people are very, very certain and wrong,” Loftus told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in a recent interview, which Yahoo News published late last week.
Loftus went on to explain in that interview that victims’ certainty about what might be an initially hazy memory can increase over time — and that it is important to consider what intervening factors may have come into play to bolster that perception of certainty.
When Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Dr. Ford last Thursday during her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?” Ford responded, leaning deliberately into the microphone, “One hundred percent.”
Loftus has emphasized that changing the details of a memory can be accomplished intentionally — as has been conclusively demonstrated in experimental research — or even spontaneously.
“The key to that is that the image has to have a lot of details. It has to be thought about many times, over and over again, and [be] easy to imagine,” Mather told Fox News host Laura Ingraham.
Mather explained how a concept called the “availability heuristic” helps explain part of the phenomenon of false memories.
“The availability heuristic allows us to kind of base our belief in the confidence of what we’re retrieving on how easily we recalled it.”
Ingraham asked him what could spur the creation of a false memory. Mather replied, “Some of Elizabeth Loftus’ work has suggested therapy itself.”
Mather noted that this does not mean that all types of therapy lead to the development of false memories.
Ford testified that notations of the alleged assault she says she suffered appear twice in her therapy records — once in 2012 during couples therapy, and again in 2013 with her individual therapist.
During her testimony, Ford specifically mentioned that she had been episodically haunted by the memory in adulthood.
“But the details that — about that night — that bring me here today are the ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult,” Ford said at the hearing last Thursday.
Ingraham asked him what could spur the creation of a false memory. Dr. Mather replied, “Some of Elizabeth Loftus’ work has suggested therapy itself.”
Mather went on to explain on Monday night the case of Donald Thompson, an Australian psychologist who studied memory and eyewitness testimony.
In 1975, while he was on the air, Mather explained, a woman was brutally raped. The victim, having seen Thompson’s picture, recalled seeing him and told police he had committed the heinous act.
He hadn’t, though, said Mather — and Thompson had an airtight alibi, as he was appearing live on air at that very moment.
Check out this segment of “The Ingraham Angle” about possible false memory:
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.