Expert Testimony: Recovered Memory

An eyewitness testifies about events from a recovered memory.

We provide expert testimony on the factors that affect recovered memory accuracy.

A memory is called “recovered” if (a) it pertains to an event that occurred to the witness/victim in the past, (b) it was not reported or described at the time it occurred, (c) it was not reported in the interim so that the witness/victim acted as if the event had not occurred, and (d) it is now remembered and reported. The majority of recovered memories produced in court testimony by witness/victims are of sexual and physical abuse that occurred in childhood.

Suggestibility Factors: Research shows that such reports are more likely to occur following suggestions, psychotherapy, hypnosis, intense questioning, or instructions to imagine such events. The events that prompt the “recovery” are closely tied to such influences. When such influences are present, the “recovered memory” report is usually inaccurate.

Prior Report Factors. Many so-called “recovered” memories have been described before, and the witness/victim has been well aware of the event all along. In such cases, the report is more likely to be accurate, and the evaluation of the accuracy of the memory depends on the evidence supporting the earlier reports.

Corroborating Evidence Factors. Frequently, there is no evidence to support the accuracy of the recovered memory other than the claim made by the witness/victim. When other evidence fails to confirm the recovered memory, researchers have argued that it is more likely to be inaccurate. When independent corroborating evidence supports the memory, researchers have argued that it is more likely to be accurate.

Factors that Make a Recovered Memory More Likely to be Accurate. (a) The presence of a defined trigger, or reminder, such as returning to the location for the first time since the event; (b) the memory is entirely produced by the witness, and has not been suggested or influenced by other people; (c) there is independent supporting evidence that the events occurred; and (d) the events are consistent with known facts about the character, environment, etc., of the alleged perpetrator.

CLICK HERE to view one of our research publications on the factors that affect the accuracy of recovered memories: Lyn Haber and Ralph Haber (1998). Criteria for Judging the Admissibility of Eyewitness Testimony of Long Past Events. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, Vol. 4, pp. 1135-1159.

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