To many of us,  a “memory” is something that we remember from the past. Either good or bad, it stays in our mind and sometimes it is used as evidence. However, memory is actually not as reliable as we think it is, and we found out why at “Science on Tap,, ” a web-series designed to show how scientific topics can be everyday bar-top conversations. The latest episode, titled “What do You Remember?” took place Monday, March 24 at the Stony Brook Yacht Club.
Professor Steven Reiner from the SBU School of Journalism sat down with Professor Nancy Franklin and had an hour-long discussion about what memory is and why eyewitness memory can be dangerous. Franklin, a professor from the Department of Psychology, researches how memory functions and how it is influenced by human emotions.  She began the discussion with what memory is not.
“It’s not a video camera, it’s not a recorder. Memory is more sophisticated and intelligent than that,” Franklin said. People are not designed to take in every bit of information or else it would be overload.  As selfish as it sounds, we only pay attention to what matters to us and we are bad at knowing how bad we are. These are some of the main reasons why eyewitnesses are potentially dangerous—one may be telling a story like they remember it with confidence because they rely on their memory.
Memory can be contaminated. It may sound strange, since memory is in one’s mind so we tend to think that we have control over it. According to Franklin, 75 percent of attorney cases have used eyewitness memory as a primary or the only key of evidence while 86 percent of the time when people do co-witness, they copy each other.
“I think so few people in America know about science so this was a wonderful way to introduce them to really important concepts that impact our society,” said Joan Miyazaki from Stony Brook who shared her thoughts on the event.
“Our democracy is dependent on having factual information and we’re now beginning to understand what people’s biology has to do with their ability to be good witnesses,” she said. “Now we understand more about why people make mistakes.”

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