In a trial two key witnesses give two different accounts and later further modify their version of the facts; one of the two later retracts and then even withdraws his retraction. An adult woman undergoing therapy suddenly remembers being sexually abused by her father when she was a child and decides to sue him. How can such incidents possibly occur? Is it possible to recover such remote memories? Can a witness in good faith recount events that never happened? On the basis of her research experience and work with judiciary institutions, the author explains how one may "lie" without necessarily being aware of it. Our memory is never an exact photograph of actual events, but rather a reconstruction that may be affected by prior knowledge, context, the will to please the person asking questions, and the latter's authoritativeness, not to mention coercive methods sometimes used by police or veritable fabrications. Examples drawn from research on memory skills, court cases and various countries' rules governing the acquisition as evidence of witness testimony, the text offers food for thought concerning a particularly critical aspect of public life.
Giuliana Mazzoni teaches Psychology at Seton Hall University (New Jersey).