February-March, 2015

False Memories May Be Easily Created

A study by Julia Shaw, of the University of Bedfordshire in the UK, and Stephen Porter, of the University of British Columbia, published in Psychological Science, suggests that the creation of false memories in adults may be easily accomplished.  The study, “Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime,” tested 60 university students who were subjected to three 40-minute interviews over several weeks.

The students were presented with stories about two events the students allegedly experienced between the ages of 11 and 14.  Only one of the events, however, actually occurred.  The researchers supported the false story with some accurate factual details, which the researchers obtained from cooperating family members.  Thirty of the students were given a story about a prior criminal event, and other students were given a story about a prior emotional event (such as a personal injury, or loss of a sum of money).

Of the students told they had committed a prior crime, 71% were found to have developed a false memory.  Of the students being told of a prior emotional event, 76.67% were found to have formulated a false memory.

The researchers concluded that by incorporating some true details into the false story, the student received enough familiarity with the ‘event’ to make it seem plausible.  “In such circumstances, inherently fallible and reconstructive memory processes can quite readily generate false recollections with astonishing realism,” Ms. Shaw said, and, “we had some participants recalling incredibly vivid details and re-enacting crimes they never committed.”

Ms. Shaw said that, “All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is 3 hours in a friendly environment, where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory retrieval techniques.”  She also was quoted as saying that by “empirically demonstrating the harm ‘bad’ interview techniques – those which are known to cause false memories – can cause, we can more readily convince interviewers to avoid them and to use ‘good’ techniques instead.”

Source:  “People can be convinced they committed a crime that never happened,” http://sciencedaily.com, January 15, 2015: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150115102835.htm

Study Shows Memory Accuracy Increases
When Witnesses Close Eyes

Recent research at Surrey University in the UK suggests that if a witness closes her or his eyes when recalling an event, then accuracy of the recall is increased by 23%.  Some UK police manuals already suggest asking witnesses to close their eyes.  Also, if there is a rapport built with the witness, then the results are further optimized.  Experimental psychologist Robert Nash was quoted as saying, “Although closing your eyes to remember seems to work whether or not rapport has been built beforehand, our results show that building rapport makes witnesses more at ease with closing their eyes. That in itself is vital if we are to encourage witnesses to use this helpful technique during interviews.”

Source:  “Covering eyes can help witnesses recall crimes, study finds,” http://theguardian.com, January 15, 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/jan/16/covering-eyes-help-witnesses-recall-crimes

New Study Show Recidivism Low for
Violent Offenders

A December 1, 2014 study by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS), “Paroling people who committed serious crimes: What is the actual risk?” found that for greater than 99.1% of the homicide (murder and manslaughter) and sex-crime offenders paroled between 2007 through the first quarter of 2010, did not return to prison for a similar crime within three years of parole.  For example, of 820 paroled homicide offenders, two individuals (0.2 percent) returned to prison for a new homicide.  Of 4,109 paroled sex offenders, 32 individuals (0.8 percent) returned to prison for a new similar crime.  In contrast, robbery offenders had a higher rate of return to prison at 4.4% (or 179 of 4,110 paroled during that time-frame).

The findings in the recent study echo the findings in an earlier 2009 CAPPS study, “Denying Parole at First Eligibility: How Much Public Safety does it Actually Buy?”  In that study, which examined recidivism of parolees over a 14-year period from 1986 to 1999, the data showed that of 6,673 sex offenders paroled, 204 (3.1%) returned to prison for a new sex crime, and, of 2,448 homicide offenders paroled, 14 (0.5%) returned to prison for a new homicide.

The 2014 study asked, since research has shown that “there is no correlation between keeping people incarcerated longer and their likelihood of reoffending … Why, then, do we deny release to thousands of people who have served their minimum sentences? What are the costs and benefits?”

The study concluded that it costs about $20 million for each 1,000 prisoners to be incarcerated, and that we cannot afford to keep parole-eligible individuals locked up that are not a risk to public safety; also, funds are diverted to maintaining incarceration from areas where the funds could be used to reduce victimization and to prepare the offenders for release.  The study acknowledged that while about 95% of all parolees do not reoffend, 5% do.  The study also concluded that parole determination should not be based merely upon the type of offense, but should utilize more individualized and evidence-based criteria.

Sources:  http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/12/very_few_violent_offenders_on.html; http://www.capps-mi.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CAPPS-Paroling-people-who-committed-serious-crimes-11-23-14.pdf

Study Examines Body-Shape Measurements
Used for Identification

A biometric technique developed at the University of Adelaide that uses body-measurements, and called “body recognition,” is said, by the developers, to be as accurate for identification purposes as facial-recognition and fingerprint-analysis.

The technique, developed by a research team examining measurements of 4,000 U.S. armed forces personnel, uses eight facial and eight body measurements – including overall height, and distance from hip-bones to feet, wrist to elbow, jaw-line, and chest and pelvic width – to obtain an identification by narrowing the probability of a duplicate to a claimed certainty rate of one in one quintillion.

The technique, which is accurate regardless of the clothing worn by the suspect, the developers say, has application in criminal cases, which “usually involve a deliberate attempt to cover the face.”

Source:  Victoria Woollaston, “Forget fingerprints, crimes could be solved by BODY SHAPE: Just 8 measurements are needed to identify criminals – even through clothes,” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ January2015: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article2916665/Forget-fingerprints-crimes-solved-BODY-SHAPE-Just-8-measurements-needed-identify-criminals-clothes.html

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor