Elizabeth Loftus

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Elizabeth F. Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus in 2011
CitizenshipUnited States
NationalityUnited States
FieldsPsychology, Cognitive Psychology, Psychology and Law
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Irvine
University of Washington
New School University
National Judicial College, University of Nevada
Harvard University
Georgetown University Law Center
Alma materStanford University
University of California, Los Angeles
Doctoral advisorPatrick Suppes
Known forStudies of human memory and their application to forensic settings
Notable awardsGrawemeyer Award (2005)
National Academy of Sciences (2004)
Royal Society of Edinburgh (2005)
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Elizabeth F. Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus in 2011
CitizenshipUnited States
NationalityUnited States
FieldsPsychology, Cognitive Psychology, Psychology and Law
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Irvine
University of Washington
New School University
National Judicial College, University of Nevada
Harvard University
Georgetown University Law Center
Alma materStanford University
University of California, Los Angeles
Doctoral advisorPatrick Suppes
Known forStudies of human memory and their application to forensic settings
Notable awardsGrawemeyer Award (2005)
National Academy of Sciences (2004)
Royal Society of Edinburgh (2005)

Elizabeth F. Loftus (born Elizabeth Fishman, in 1944)[1][2] is an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory. She has conducted extensive research on the malleability of human memory. Loftus is best known for her ground-breaking work on the misinformation effect and eyewitness memory,[3] and the creation and nature of false memories,[4] including recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse.[5] As well as her prolific work inside the laboratory, Loftus has been heavily involved in applying her research to legal settings; she has consulted or provided expert witness testimony for hundreds of cases.[5][6] Loftus has been recognized throughout the world for her work, receiving numerous awards and honorary degrees. In 2002, Loftus was ranked 58th in the Review of General Psychology’s list of the 100 most influential psychological researchers of the 20th century, and was the highest ranked woman on the list.[7]



Loftus grew up in Bel Air, California.[8] Her parents were Sidney and Rebecca Fishman; her father was a doctor and her mother a librarian.[8] When Loftus was 14 years old, her mother drowned.[6][8] In 1968, Loftus married fellow psychologist Geoffrey Loftus, divorcing in 1991[6][8] but remaining friends.[9][10] Loftus has no children.[6][8]


Loftus received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and psychology with highest honors from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966. She received her MA in 1967 and Ph.D in 1970 (both in mathematical psychology and both from Stanford University), the only woman in her cohort.[2] Her thesis was entitled “An Analysis of the Structural Variables That Determine Problem-Solving Difficulty on a Computer-Based Teletype.”[11] Loftus took her first academic appointment in 1970 at the New School for Social Research in New York City.[2] Her research during her time there focused on the organization of semantic information in longterm memory.[2] However Loftus soon realized she wanted to do research with greater social relevance.[11] Loftus attributes this realization in part to a conversation with an acquaintance to whom she was describing her findings about semantic memory, who wondered at the cost of the research compared to its value.[11]

The Misinformation Effect

In 1973 Loftus accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Washington and used the new position to begin a new line of research into how memory works in real-world settings,[2][5][8] beginning the empirical study of eyewitness testimony.[6] One of the first studies she conducted was the reconstruction of automobile destruction study,[8] in which she found that the way in which questions were worded altered the memories subjects reported.[3][8] Loftus’ next step was to investigate whether asking leading questions, or providing misleading information in other forms, might also affect people’s memory for the original event.[3] To answer this question she developed the misinformation effect paradigm, which demonstrated that the memories of eyewitnesses are altered after being exposed to incorrect information about an event and that memory is highly malleable and open to suggestion.[3][6][9] The misinformation effect became one of the most influential and widely known effects in psychology,[3] and Loftus’ early work on the effect generated hundreds of follow-up studies examining factors that improve or worsen the accuracy of memories, and to explored the cognitive mechanisms underlying the effect.[3][6]

Expert testimony

Loftus has testified and advised courts about the nature of eyewitness memory for many cases.[5][8][9] This direct involvement with the application of her work to the legal system grew from an article Loftus published in 1974 about the relationship between findings from psychological science and the witness testimony in a murder trial she had observed,[2][5][8] in which conflicting witness memory played a key role in the evidence.[8] Lawyers who read the article began to contact Loftus to consult her about their cases, and judges requested educational seminars about eyewitness evidence, so she began her work as an educator of legal practitioners.[2][8] In 1975 Loftus set a legal precedent when she provided Washington State’s first expert testimony about eyewitness memory (specifically, on the topic of eyewitness identification).[5][10] She has since testified in over 250 cases and consulted on many more.[8][9]

Notable cases she has been involved in due to her expertise include the McMartin preschool trial, O.J. Simpson, the trials of mass murderers Ted Bundy, Willie Mak, and the Angelo Bueno, the Abscam cases, the trial of Oliver North, the trial of the officers accused in the Rodney King beating, the trial of the Menendez brothers, the Bosnian War trials in the Hague, the Oklahoma City bombing case, and litigation involving Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Lewis “Scooter” Libby and the Duke University Lacrosse team.[5][6][8][9][12]

The Memory Wars

In the early 1990s, the focus of Loftus’ work shifted to investigating whether it was possible to implant false memories for entire events that had never taken place. The impetus for this new line of research was a case for which Loftus had been asked to provide expert testimony in 1990.[8][9][11][13] The unique point in this case was that George Franklin stood accused of murder, but the only evidence against him was provided by his daughter, Eileen Franklin-Lipsker, who claimed that she had initially repressed the memory of him raping and murdering her childhood friend, Susan Nason, 20 years earlier, and had only recently recovered it while undergoing therapy.[8][9][13] Loftus gave evidence about the malleability of memory, but had to concede that she did not know of any research about the particular kind of memory Franklin-Lipsker was claiming to have; Franklin was convicted (though in 1996 he was released upon appeal).[8][9][13]

At that time, many others were also making accusations, both in and out of court, based on recovered memories of trauma.[13] Loftus began work to find out whether some of these recovered memories might in fact be false memories, created by the suggestive techniques used by some therapists at the time and encouraged in some self-help books.[8][9][13] Ethically, she could not try to convince research subjects that they had been sexually abused by a relative as a child, so Loftus had to come up with a paradigm that involved childhood trauma without causing harm to subjects. The lost in the mall technique was the result. The method involves attempting to implant a false memory of being lost in a shopping mall as a child and testing whether discussing a false event could produce a "memory" despite never happening. In her initial study, Loftus found that 25% of subjects came to develop a “memory” for the event which had never actually taken place.[9][13] Extensions and variations of the lost in the mall technique found that an average of one third of experimental subjects could become convinced that they experienced things in childhood that had never really occurred—even highly traumatic, and impossible events.[13] Loftus’ work was used to oppose recovered memory evidence provided in court[9] and resulted in stricter requirements for the use of recovered memories being used in trials as well as a greater requirement for corroborating evidence. In addition, some states no longer allowed prosecution based on recovered memory testimony and insurance companies were more reluctant to insure therapists against malpractice suits relating to recovered memories.[6][8][9]

Criticisms and harassment related to research

Loftus’ first study using the lost in the mall technique was criticized by Lynn Crook and Martha Dean based on the ethics of the subject recruitment method used.[14] Also, Kenneth Pope has argued she inappropriately generalized the findings to draw conclusions about false memories and therapeutic techniques.[14][15] However Loftus published a rebuttal to these criticisms which pointed out the errors, exaggerations, and omissions made regarding her research, which could be viewed as a deliberate attempt to distort her work, and stated that the criticisms appeared to be based on personal animosity rather than a valid understanding of the research. Regarding the ethics of the creation of the study, Loftus stated that it was primarily a colleague who piloted the study with his daughter, and later revisited the idea as part of an undergraduate class she was teaching. She also emphasized that participants demonstrated no adverse effects upon follow-up and pointed out that the study design and findings had been replicated repeatedly, demonstrating the soundness of the conclusions.[16] In addition to opposition from fellow researchers, Loftus has been insulted by a prosecutor, attacked by an airplane passenger who recognized her,[6][9] received hate mail and death threats,[9][17] and has had to have protection from security guards while giving invited addresses.[6][8]

After criticizing the theory of recovered memory and testifying about the nature of memory and false allegations of child sexual abuse as part of the day care sex abuse hysteria, Loftus was subject to on-line harassment by conspiracy theorist Diana Napolis, who believed Loftus was engaged in satanic ritual abuse or assisted in covering up these crimes as part of a larger conspiracy.[18] In part basing their accusations on Napolis' web postings, a group of protesters alleging she had abused children accosted Loftus after she had addressed a scientific conference in New Zealand.[citation needed]

"Jane Doe" case

The case that has arguably had the biggest negative impact on Loftus is that of "Jane Doe" (real name Nicole Taus). In 1997, David Corwin and his colleague Erna Olafson published a case study[19] of an apparently bona fide case of an accurate, recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse.[17][20] Skeptical, Loftus and her colleague Melvin Guyer decided to investigate further. Using public records and interviewing people connected to Taus, they uncovered information Corwin had not included in his original article—information that they thought strongly suggested Taus' memory of abuse was false.[8][9][17] While Loftus and Guyer were conducting their investigation, Taus contacted the University of Washington and accused Loftus of breaching her privacy.[8][9][21] In response, the university confiscated Loftus’ files and put Loftus under investigation for 21 months, forbidding her to share her findings in the mean time.[8][9][17][21] She was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing by the university, and allowed to publish her findings[22] in 2002.[8][9][21]

In 2003, Loftus, the University of Washington and a few others were sued by Taus regarding the 2002 publication.[8][20] The suit initially involved allegations of invasion of privacy, defamation, fraud, and infliction of emotional distress; 21 counts and causes of action in total.[20][23] However in February, 2007 the Supreme Court of California dismissed all but one count under strategic lawsuit against public participation legislation.[20][23] The single remaining count was Taus' claim that Loftus had misrepresented herself as Corwin's supervisor in interviewing Taus' foster mother. The case was settled in August, 2007 when Loftus' insurance company agreed to a nuisance settlement of $7,500 rather than cover the cost of a trial for the one remaining allegation.[20] Taus’ legal bill was $450,578.50.[20] Loftus published her own analysis of the case in 2009.[24][25]

In 2002, Loftus left the University of Washington and her Seattle home of 29 years to work at the University of California, Irvine where she is a Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and a Professor of Law, and of Cognitive Science in the Departments of Psychology and Social Behavior, and Criminology, Law, and Society.[26][27] She is also director of The Center for Psychology and Law[28] and a Fellow of The Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.[29] Loftus’ work since arriving at UCI has looked at the behavioral consequences and potential benefits of false memories, such as the ability of false memories to reduce the desire to eat certain foods.[4][5][8]

Honors and Awards


1991Honorary Fellow (and lifetime member) of the British Psychological Society
1994"In Praise of Reason" Award from the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
1995Distinguished Contribution to Forensic Psychology Award from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences
1996Distinguished Contribution to Basic and Applied Scientific Psychology Award from the American Association of Applied and Preventative Psychology
1997James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science
2001William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science[21][30]
2002Contributions to Sexual Science Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
2002Quad-L Award from the University of New Mexico
2003Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology Award from the American Psychological Association; delivered award address at 2003 APA's convention.[27]
2003Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[1]
2003Elected Thorsten Sellin Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences
2004Elected to National Academy of Sciences
2005Distinguished Member of Psi Chi
2005Elected Corresponding Fellow to the Royal Society of Edinburgh
2005Grawemeyer Award in Psychology from the University of Louisville
2005Lauds & Laurels Faculty Achievement Award from University of California, Irvine
2006Elected to the American Philosophical Society.
2007Elected Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism
2009Distinguished Contributions to Psychology and Law Award from the American Psychology-Law Society
2010Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists
2010Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science[31]
2012William T. Rossiter Award from the Forensic Mental Health Association of California

In her acceptance speech for the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, Loftus states that the word “freedom” is personally important to her, as when she began speaking out about repressed memory, she never imagined she would become “the target of organized, relentless vitriol and harassment”. Loftus feels that today's world is for science is a perilous one and if scientists want to preserve their freedoms they need to speak out “against even the most cherished beliefs that reflect unsubstantiated myths”.[32]

Honorary Doctorates

Loftus has also received a total of six honorary degrees in a variety of fields.[33]

YearInstitutionHonorary degree
1982Miami UniversityDoctor of Science
1990Leiden University, NetherlandsDoctorate Honoris Causa
1994John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New YorkDoctor of Laws
1998University of Portsmouth, EnglandDoctor of Science
2005University of Haifa, IsraelDoctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa
2008University of Oslo, NorwayDoctor Honoris Causa

Positions of Leadership and Affiliations

Loftus is a Fellow of the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry's CSICOP Executive Council.[34] She is a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.[35] She has also been a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists since 1990.

Loftus has been the president of the Association for Psychological Science (1998-99), the Western Psychological Association (1984, 2004-5), and the American Psychology-Law Society. She was on the governing board of the Psychonomic Society (1990-1995). She was also on the board of directors for the Institute for the Study of the Trial (1979-81).


Loftus has written or contributed to numerous publications, including 24 books and over 500 journal articles.[36] Her fourth book, Eyewitness Testimony won a National Media Award from the American Psychological Foundation in 1980.

Notable Journal Articles


Public Appearances

Loftus attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposium in November 2006.[37] She was a keynote speaker at The British Psychological Society Annual Conference in 2011, held in Glasgow on May 4–6.[38]


  1. ^ a b "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter L". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. http://www.amacad.org/publications/BookofMembers/ChapterL.pdf. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Bower, G. H., (2007). Tracking the birth of a star. In M. Garry & H. Hayne (Eds.), Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom (pp. 15-25). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  3. ^ a b c d e f Zaragoza, M. S., Belli, R., & Payment, K. E., (2007). Misinformation effects and the suggestibility of eyewitness memory. In M. Garry & H. Hayne (Eds.), Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom (pp. 35-63). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  4. ^ a b Bernstein, D. M.; Laney, C.; Morris, E. K.; Loftus, E. F. (2005). "Inaugural Article: False beliefs about fattening foods can have healthy consequences". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (39): 13724–13731. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504869102. PMC 1236554. PMID 16079200. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1236554/.  edit
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Zagorski, N. (2005). "Profile of Elizabeth F. Loftus". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (39): 13721–13723. doi:10.1073/pnas.0506223102. PMC 1236565. PMID 16172386. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1236565/.  edit
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Neimark, J. (1996). The diva of disclosure, memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus. Psychology Today, 29, 48-53,80.
  7. ^ Haggbloom, SJ; Warnick R; Warnick JE; Jones VK; Yarbrough GL; Russell TM; Borecky CM; McGahhey R; Powell JL; Beavers J & Monte E (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century" (PDF). Rev. Gen. Psychol 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Saletan, W (2010-06-04). "The memory doctor: the future of false memories". Slate. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_memory_doctor/2010/06/the_memory_doctor.single.html. Retrieved 2012-05-08. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Wilson, A (2002-11-03). "War & remembrance: Controversy is a constant for memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, newly installed at UCI". The Orange County Register. http://williamcalvin.com/2002/OrangeCtyRegister.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  10. ^ a b Loftus G (2007). "Elizabeth F. Loftus: The early years". In Garry M & Hayne H. Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 27-31. ISBN 0805852328. 
  11. ^ a b c d Loftus, EF (2007). "Memory distortions: Problems solved and unsolved". In Garry M & Hayne H. Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 1-14. ISBN 0805852328. 
  12. ^ "Memory Expert Pressed In C.I.A. Leak Case.". Associated Press in New York Times. 2006-10-27. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/27/washington/27brfs-006.html. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Strange, D; Clifasefi S & Garry M (2007). "False memories.". In Garry M & Hayne H. Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 137-68. ISBN 0805852328. 
  14. ^ a b Crook, L.; Dean, Martha (1999). "Lost in a Shopping Mall--A Breach of Professional Ethics". Ethics & Behavior. 9 (1): 39–50. doi:10.1207/s15327019eb0901_3. PMID 11657487. http://users.owt.com/crook/memory/. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  15. ^ Pope, K. (1996). "Memory, Abuse, and Science: Questioning Claims about the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic". American Psychologist 51 (9): 957–974. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.51.9.957. PMID 8819364. http://www.kspope.com/memory/memory.php. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  16. ^ Loftus, E (1999). "Lost in the mall: Misrepresentations and misunderstandings" (PDF). Ethics & Behavior 9 (1): 51–60. doi:10.1207/s15327019eb0901_4. PMID 11657488. http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall07/brunnquelld/psy8542/Session%2015/Loftus%20-Lost%20in%20the%20Mall%20-%20Misrepresentations%20and%20misubders.pdf. 
  17. ^ a b c d Abramsky, S (2004-08-19). "Memory and Manipulation: The trials of Elizabeth Loftus, defender of the wrongly accused". LA Weekly. http://www.laweekly.com/2004-08-19/news/memory-and-manipulation/. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  18. ^ Bocij, Paul (2004). Cyberstalking: harassment in the Internet age and how to protect your family. New York: Praeger Publishers. pp. 34. ISBN 0-275-98118-5. 
  19. ^ Corwin, D.; Olafson E. (1997). "Videotaped Discovery of a Reportedly Unrecallable Memory of Child Sexual Abuse: Comparison with a Childhood Interview Videotaped 11 Years Before". Child Maltreatment 2 (2): 91–112. doi:10.1177/1077559597002002001. http://cmx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/2/2/91. Retrieved 2008-01-09. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f Tavris, C (2008). "Whatever Happened to 'Jane Doe'?". Skeptical Inquirer (Amherst, New York: Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 32 (1): 28–30. ISSN 0194-6730. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/whatever_happened_to_jane_doe/. Retrieved 2010-02-23. 
  21. ^ a b c d Tavris, C (2002). "The high cost of skepticism". Skeptial Inquirer 26 (4): 41-44. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/high_cost_of_skepticism. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b Taus v. Loftus, 683 3d 54, 775 (Cal. 4th 2007).
  24. ^ Loftus, Elizabeth (May 2008). "Perils of Provocative Scholarship". Observer (Washington, DC: Association for Psychological Science) 21 (5): 13–15. ISSN 1050-4672. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2339. 
  25. ^ Loftus, E; Geis G (2009). "Taus v. Loftus: Determining the Legal Ground Rules for Scholarly Inquiry". Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice 9 (2): 147–62. doi:10.1080/15228930802575524. 
  26. ^ "Elizabeth F. Loftus faculty page". University of California, Irvine. nd. http://socialecology.uci.edu/faculty/eloftus/. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  27. ^ a b No Authorship Indicated, (2003). "Award for Distinguished Scientific Psychology" (PDF). American Psychologist (American Psychologist) 58 (11): 864–73. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.11.864. PMID 14609373. http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/AmerPsychAward+ArticlePDF03%20(2).pdf. 
  28. ^ "Center for Psychology and Law Faculty". University of California, Irvine. nd. http://socialecology.uci.edu/research/psychlaw/faculty. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  29. ^ "CNLM Fellows at UC Irvine". University of California, Irvine. nd. 
  30. ^ "William James Fellow Award: Elizabeth Loftus, University of California, Irvine". Association for Psychological Science. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/awards/james/citations/loftus.cfm. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  31. ^ "False Memory Investigator Elizabeth Loftus Receives 2010 \Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award". AAAS. http://news.aaas.org/2011_annual_meeting/0216post-15.shtml. Retrieved 2011-02-20. 
  32. ^ Loftus, Elizabeth (May/June 2011). "We Live in Perilous Times for Science". Skeptical Inquirer (CSICOP) 35 (3): 13. 
  33. ^ "E. Loftus' Curriculum Vitae". University of California - Irvine. http://socialecology.uci.edu/sites/socialecology.uci.edu/files/cv/eloftus/vitairvinemark6-11_0.doc. Retrieved 2011-07-02. 
  34. ^ "CSI Adds to Executive Council". Skeptical Inquirer. May 5, 2011. http://www.csicop.org/news/press_releases/show/csi_adds_to_executive_council. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  35. ^ "The FMSF Scientific and Professional Advisory Board - Profiles". http://www.fmsfonline.org/advboard.html. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  36. ^ http://www.fcas.nova.edu/arts/distinguished_speakers_series/elizabeth_loftus/index.cfm Accessed June 11, 2012
  37. ^ "TSN: Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival". Thesciencenetwork.org. http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/beyond-belief-science-religion-reason-and-survival. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  38. ^ "The BPS Annual Conference Programme 2011". http://www.bps.org.uk/ac2011/programme/programme_home.cfm. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 

Further reading

External links