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How false memories of crimes may occur in police investigations

California residents may need to know that some interview techniques could potentially lead to false convictions in criminal matters. A study published in "Psychological Science" illustrated that adults were able to internalize and believe fictional stories about committing a crime.

The study was conducted by two researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada who received permission to contact primary caregivers for the university students who participated in the study. Using information from the caregivers about the potential experiences students had between the ages of 11 through 14, a researcher told each student about two events from childhood that were allegedly reported by a caregiver.

Over three interview periods, the students were told the memories then asked to explain what happened in the two events. One memory was made up, but the fictional stories used some real details provided by a caregiver, such as a friend's name. Half the false stories involved the student committing a crime like theft or assault and encountering the police.

Though none of the students had committed the crimes researchers used, 21 out of 30 students developed a false memory of the crime. The students with these memories provided sensory details and were all similarly confident about their recollection of the events. This could be because the interviewers provided strategies to help the students remember details when they had trouble recalling the fabricated memory.

The results of this study suggest that one's memories can be altered without one's awareness, and this may mean that one could create false memories when interrogated by law enforcement. If the mind is susceptible to certain interview techniques, this might make the need for an attorney even greater in criminal defense matters. An attorney may help protect an individual's rights during an interview or another part of an investigation.

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