During my last few posts I have discussed the fallibility of memory, and I think the reader will agree with me that this issue is complex at best. However, I now need to introduce a further level of complexity.
In relation to any given memory it is possible that the whole memory is confabulated; it is possible that none of the memory is confabulated; and it is possible that part of the memory is confabulated. To use the example I gave in an earlier post in which I described my memory of putting my keys in my blue jacket when in fact it turns out that they were in my brown jacket: this is an example of a confabulated memory, but only part of the memory is confabulated. In this example I have a real memory of putting my keys in my jacket; the part that is confabulated is that I remember it as being my blue jacket when in reality it was my brown jacket.
Transferring this mundane example to the more dramatic context of a courtroom, the level of complexity as well as the consequences of a false memory are increased exponentially.
If I give evidence in court to say that I remember an event occurring there are three possibilities:
- I am reporting an accurate memory of an event that occurred.
- I am lying to the court and reporting that I have a memory when in fact I do not have a memory.
- I am doing my best to be honest but am reporting a memory I have that is a confabulated memory (a false memory).
Unfortunately, these are not the only possibilities. There are another four:
- I am reporting something that is partly an accurate memory, but I am distorting the facts (deliberately lying) about some aspect of that memory (numbers 1 and 2 combined).
- I am reporting a partially accurate memory and a partially confabulated memory as in the example of my keys and the two jackets (numbers 1 and 3 combined).
- I am reporting something that I know to be untrue along with something I believe to be true but which is confabulated (possibilities 2 and 3 combined).
- I am reporting something that is based partly on a real and accurate memory, partly on a falsehood, and partly on a confabulated memory (possibilities 1, 2, and 3 combined).
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the decision is yours . . . good luck!