Kavanaugh, Ford and What the Science of Memory Tells Us - NBC 7 San Diego

Kavanaugh, Ford and What the Science of Memory Tells Us

Experts say a person's memory is not like a video recorder, perfectly capturing an objective record of everything that happens for later retrieval

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Protesters Opposed to Kavanaugh Gather at Capitol Hill

    Protesters gathered at Capitol Hill Thursday to urge the Senate to reject the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Many of the protesters said they were survivors of sexual assault. About 50 people were arrested.

    (Published Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018)

    What to Know

    • With Brett Kavanaugh denying an allegation of sexual assault, people wonder if he or accuser Christine Ford is lying

    • Experts say it's possible both Kavanaugh and Ford believe what they say, because memory is mostly true but sometimes unreliable

    • When it comes to emotionally charged events, it's typical to remember a central person or an item but forget the context and details

    She says he sexually assaulted her; he denies it. Is somebody deliberately lying?

    Not necessarily.

    Experts say that because of how memory works, it's possible that both Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford — the woman who says a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her at a party when they were teenagers in the early 1980s — believe what they say.

    And which one of them believes his or her version more strongly is no tipoff to what really happened.

    Senate Delays Kavanaugh Vote for Hearing on New Allegation

    [NATL] Senate Delays Kavanaugh Vote for Hearing for Sexual Misconduct Allegation

    The Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed a crucial vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. The delay comes after an allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl while in high school 36 years ago.

     
    (Published Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018)

    "Confidence is not a good guide to whether or not someone is telling the truth," said Nora Newcombe, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. "If they think they're telling the truth, they could plausibly both be confident about it."

    As the nation ponders the accusations from Ford before she testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning, the possibility that one of them simply got it wrong has been floated on Capitol Hill. Ford's lawyers have said some senators appear to have made up their mind that she is "mistaken" and confused. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told CNN, "Somebody's mixed up."

    Experts say a person's memory is not like a video recorder, perfectly capturing an objective record of everything that happens for later retrieval.

    "Memory is mostly true but sometimes unreliable," said psychologist Jennifer Talarico of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Generally, "we get the gist mostly right."

    Your beliefs and expectations shape what you perceive in your life and how you later remember those events, researchers say.

    "You are constructing the reality out there as it happens, and therefore you get stuck with that ... as the most accurate you can have for your memory," said David Rubin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. "That's all you have to base your memory on."

    Trump Names Mick Mulvaney Acting Chief of Staff

    [NATL] Trump Names Mick Mulvaney Acting Chief of Staff

    President Donald Trump announced on twitter Friday that Mick Mulvaney will take over as acting chief of staff, replacing John Kelly.

    (Published Friday, Dec. 14, 2018)

    So in a situation where a woman fears being raped by a man, her memories might be shaped by that fear into a recollection that overestimates the threat, whereas the man might consider it "just playing around" and simply forget it later on, Rubin said. And both could be completely honest about their recollections.

    Typically, when people make mistakes in recalling an event, they unknowingly slip in details that would be typical on such occasions, Talarico said. (She would not speculate on particular memories at issue in the Kavanaugh matter.)

    When it comes to emotionally charged events, it's typical to remember a central person or an item such as a gun but forget the context and details, Newcombe said. "You have this vivid central thing and everything else is fuzzy," she said. "Emotion makes one thing go up and the other go down."

    So it would be wrong to challenge Ford's memory of the alleged incident over inability to recall details, Newcombe said.

    Ford, a 51-year-old California psychology professor, told The Washington Post that she told nobody about the alleged incident in any detail until 2012, while in couples therapy. Her husband said he recalled her using Kavanaugh's last name at that time.

    Some experts cited a classic case of how memory can fail: the 1973 Senate committee testimony of John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, regarding the Watergate affair. He testified about conversations that, it later turned out, had been recorded.

    'Late Night’: A Closer Look at Trump’s Response to Cohen

    [NATL] 'Late Night’: A Closer Look at Trump’s Response to Cohen

    Seth Meyers takes a closer look at President Donald Trump's interview in which he desperately tried to rebut allegations that he broke campaign finance laws.

    (Published Friday, Dec. 14, 2018)

    In 1981, a psychologist published a comparison of his testimony to the tapes and found that even though Dean was basically right about the existence of a cover-up, his accounts of conversations were often wrong.

    As for the Kavanaugh matter, Rubin said, "We don't have the tapes for what happened at the party."