Role: Professor of Psychology
Impact: Produced a significant body of scientific research that challenges Elizabeth Loftus’ claims about false memories.
Kathy Pezdek is a psychologist who specializes in eyewitness memory. Her most contested studies are those which challenged established psychologists in support of ‘False Memory Syndrome,’ such as Elizabeth Loftus. Her studies on false childhood memories seek to standardize the likelihood and ease with which memory can be ‘implanted’, standardize how the scientific community approaches false and flawed memories in research, and critique studies that overemphasize the ease of memory implantation.
Pezdek’s research on false childhood memories seeks to standardize the likelihood and ease with which memory can be ‘implanted.’ She argues that the memories researchers such as Elizabeth Loftus claim to have implanted are only of plausible scenarios or memories similar to other experiences. Examples include the common experience of being lost in a mall or reading the word "cake" instead of the word "cookie." Compared to these plausible examples, Pezdek argues that less plausible memories – such as being given an enema or reading the word "penis" instead of “cookie” – are of a different caliber. Her results showed that the plausible events were falsely remembered significantly more than less plausible events, and that it is not likely for a relatively implausible event to be implanted as a false memory.
“Planting False Childhood Memories in Children: The Role of Event Plausibility.”
Kathy Pezdek and Danelle Hodge, 1999
Findings: Successfully planting a false memory by suggestion depends on how plausible the memory is, as well as how relevant and similar the false memory is to other true memories. A consistent pattern has been shown where plausible events (being lost in a mall) are more likely to be falsely remembered than relatively implausible events (receiving an enema). From this, Pezdek outlines a framework for understanding false remembering based on Graesser’s schema copy plus tag model of memory, where more informational overlap between one’s memories and presented descriptions of false circumstances leads to a higher chance of false remembering.
“Planting False Childhood Memories: The Role of Event Plausibility.”
Kathy Pezdek, Kimberly Finger and Danelle Hodge, 1997
Findings: Successfully planting a false memory by suggestion depends on how plausible and script-relevant the memory is – how relevant and similar the false memory is to other true memories. In the first experiment, Catholics and Jews read descriptions of religious rituals. The participants were significantly more likely to falsely remember script-relevant rituals that aligned with their faith. Only one participant falsely remembered a ritual that was not script relevant. In the second experiment, participants were read descriptions of plausible events (a relative getting lost in a mall) and implausible events (a relative receiving an enema). Only the plausible events were remembered. From this, Pezdek concludes that implanting false memories is far more likely for script-relevant and plausible events, and is unlikely for implausible and irrelevant events.
“What research paradigms have cognitive psychologists used to study “False memory,” and what are the implications of these choices?”
Kathy Pezdek, Shirley Lam, 2007
Findings: In an analysis of 198 articles on the subject of “false memory,” only 13.1% were found to have studied false memory within the original context of the term: planting a memory of an entirely new event never experienced before by the individual. The implications of this trend are discussed: “It is thus inappropriate to generalize directly from false memory research that did not involve planting entirely new events in memory to real world situations that do involve planting entirely new events in memory.”
“Deconstructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime: Commentary on Shaw and Porter (2015)” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797617703667
Kimberley A. Wade, Maryanne Garry, Kathy Pezdek, 2018
“It Is Just Harder to Construct Memories for False Autobiographical Events” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/acp.3269
Kathy Pezdek, Iris Blandon-Gitlin, 2016
These studies critique a highly-publicized study by Shaw and Porter that claimed in 2015 that “seventy percent of people, when subjected to highly suggestive and repetitive interviews, would come to believe that they had committed a crime.” Pezdek and Blandon-Gitlin’s 2016 analysis concluded that the same study was essentially incoherent, employing “an unorthodox rating system” that rendered it “impossible to know what the high prevalence rate actually refers to.”