The human brain is considered to be a unique intelligent computer that cannot be fully recreated. Thus, people often trust the calculations and memory of the human brain. However, it seems that people’s memory tends to adapt to the changes in events to make logical assumptions. The video report on the case of Ronald Cotton demonstrates how human memory adapts to the provided circumstances (CBSNewsOnline, 2009a). Cotton was arrested for the rape of Jennifer Thompson and another woman in the fact that the first victim eyewitnessed that it was him who committed the crime. Later, after 11 years of incarceration, it was found with the help of a DNA test that the culprit was another man who strongly resembled Cotton (CBSNewsOnline, 2009a). The cause of such a mistake is thought to be the fact that the actual criminal was not on the suspect list, and the witness chose the man who most resembled the rapist. Thompson was certain the crime was enacted by the person from the list, and her memories of the events had changed. Then, she was reassured it was the right choice, and she even did not recognize the real criminal when she met him as her memory of the event had transformed (CBSNewsOnline, 2009b). There are many other cases when eyewitnesses wrongly accuse innocent people because of the tricks the brain plays with them.
These and other examples often prove that memory is not the exact storage of information like in technological computers but a system that adjusts according to the circumstances. Studies suggest that when a person is reassured of the correctness of his or her memories, he or she starts to change the ‘stored’ information following that ensured version (Fernandes et al., 2017). Moreover, when people are given limited choices of possible events, they often overlook the possibility of other situations (Fernandes et al., 2017). This leads them to change their memory to the most suitable from the provided option. Therefore, memory can be easily ‘contaminated’ by other people’s opinions, the limitation of the visible choices, and the similarity between objects or people. For this reason, it is necessary to always consider this factor when gathering the testimony from witnesses since the memory is full of loopholes where details can be replaced.
CBSNewsOnline. (2009a). Eyewitness Testimony Part 1. YouTube.
CBSNewsOnline. (2009b). Eyewitness Testimony Part 2. YouTube.
Fernandes, N. L., Pandeirada, J. N. S., Soares, S. C., & Nairne, J. S. (2017). Adaptive memory: The mnemonic value of contamination. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(4), 451–460. Web.