Researchers find memory can be manipulated by photos

The camera may not lie, but doctored photos do according to new research into digitally altered photos and how they influence our memories and attitudes toward public events.

When presented with digitally altered images depicting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and a 2003 anti-war protest in Rome, participants in a new study by American and Italian researchers recalled the events as being bigger and more violent than they really were, suggesting that viewing doctored photographs might affect people’s memories of past public events.

The study, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, was designed by UC Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus along with University of Padua researchers Franca Agnoli and Dario Sacchi.

[…] When media use digitally doctored photographs, they may ultimately change the way we recall history, Loftus said.

“It shows the power of anyone to tamper with people’s recollection, and it gives the media another reason to regulate such doctoring, besides ethical reasons,” Loftus said.


Irvine, Calif., November 19, 2007

Webmaster note: Elizabeth Loftus, you may remember, refused to give testimony in the trial of Ivan Demjanjuk because, knowing how fragile human memory to be, she didn’t want to say anything that might help exonerate him, regardless of his innocence.

So, what about the effect of all the fraudulent photographic “evidence” put forth to prove Holocaust extermination claims, including bars of human soap, shrunken heads, and human-skin lampshades, to name just a few. It seems clear that if a doctored photo can alter a person’s memory of an event, fraudulent and/or misrepresented photographs have the power to do the same thing.