In a recent TED talk, forensic psychologist Scott Fraser reveals exactly why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable.
“The brain abhors a vacuum,” Fraser says.
Witnesses don’t typically lie. Their brains just fill in vivid details where there aren’t any, Fraser says.
During his powerful TED talk, Fraser recounts working on the team that helped reverse a murder conviction against Francisco Carrillo 20 years after the fact.
Six teen witnesses identified Carrillo as a gunman in a drive-by shooting around 7 p.m. in 1991.
Fraser helped stage a re-enactment two decades later that revealed there was no way those witnesses could have seen the gunman’s face at that time of night.
They just believed they saw his face after one of the boys identified Carrillo in a picture presented by police, according to an LA Times article on the case.
“All of our memories are reconstructed memories,” Fraser said during his talk. “They’re dynamic. They’re malleable. They’re volatile.”
On Sept. 11, Fraser himself vividly recalls watching the second tower collapse on TV roughly an hour after the first tower collapse. But that footage wasn’t actually available until 24 hours later.
“I am sure I saw the second tower collapse an hour later,” Fraser said.
But, Fraser says, we can never gauge the accuracy of our memories by how vivid they are. Our brains don’t like blank spaces, so they turn sketchy memories into colourful and unreliable stories.
Watch the full talk here:
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