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22 December, 2008 - Published 13:24 GMT
Memories of highly charged events, like the London bombings of the 7th July 2005, can be inaccurate and should not be relied on in court, according to a study in Britain. People can create false memories, posing problems for police investigations. Oliver Conway reports:
The simultaneous bombings of three underground trains and a double-decker bus in London three years ago are imprinted on the minds of many people in Britain.
But our memories of the attacks are unreliable, according to a study from Portsmouth University. 40% of British students questioned about the events remembered seeing CCTV footage of the bus bomb - footage which never existed. A further 28% claimed to have seen a non-existent computerised reconstruction.
Some even recalled specific details of the attack, which none of them witnessed. "The bus had just stopped to let people off when two women and a man got on", said one. "He placed a bag by his side, the woman sat down and as the bus left, there was an explosion. There was a leg on the floor". Another described how the bus had stopped at a traffic light when there was a bright light, a loud bang and the top flew off.
"Memories are not like videotape you can rewind and replay for perfect recall", said lead researcher James Ost. "Because of this, they are not reliable enough to form the basis of legal decisions". He believes people who are more creative might be more prone to these kind of errors.
Oliver Conway, BBC
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