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Learning English - Words in the News
22 December, 2008 - Published 13:24 GMT
False memories
Forget-me-not campaign logo

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:

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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

Listen to the words

happening at the same time

imprinted on the minds of
very well remembered by

are unreliable
cannot be trusted/counted on because they may not be accurate

CCTV footage
a film recorded by a CCTV camera that shows a particular event (CCTV is short for 'closed-circuit television', a system which sends television signals to a small number of screens, often used in shops or other public places to protect people against crime)

saw with their own eyes

here, an explosion/a blast

the top flew off
the roof of the bus was blown off by the power of the blast

return to the beginning

perfect recall
here, completely accurate and very detailed account/record

prone to
easily affected by, inclined to make

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