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CBT Radio

May 5, 2011

This episode is primarily relevant to professionals.

In this episode, R. Trent Codd, III, Ed.S., interviews Elizabeth Loftus, PhD about her research.  Some of the items they discuss include:

  • An overview of her research program 
  • The misinformation effect 
  • The relationship between one’s confidence in a memory and it’s accuracy 
  • How false memories are constructed 
  • Implications of her work for psychotherapy 


Dr. Loftus attended UCLA and originally majored in Mathematics. Dr. Loftus was planning on being a math teacher when she discovered psychology while attending UCLA. In 1966, she received her Bachelor of the Arts in Math and Psychology from UCLA. After graduating from UCLA Dr. Loftus enrolled at Stanford in the Master's program. While attending Stanford, Dr. Loftus became interested in long term memory. There is a story that Dr. Loftus mentions in, The Myth of Repressed Memory, having to do with her mother's death. Some 20 years after her mother drowned in a swimming pool her family was having a get together at her Uncle's house and a relative mentioned to Dr. Loftus something about her having been the one to find her mother in the swimming pool. After that moment Dr. Loftus began remembering things about finding her mother in the pool, several memories flooded back to her that she did not know that she had in her memory. A few days after being told that she had been the one to find her mother, her brother called and told her that the relative had gotten the information wrong and that her uncle, not her, had been the one to find their mother in the swimming pool. This event in Dr. Loftus' life gives more fuel to the battle she is fighting about memory and how easy it is to create false memories. Until that day, Dr. Loftus had no memories of finding her mother in the pool, but as soon as she was told that it had been her, all kinds of memories of the event were "recovered."  In 1967, Dr. Loftus received her M.A. in psychology and then in 1968 she married her now ex-husband, George Loftus. Dr. Loftus received her Ph.D. (also from Stanford) 1970 (Born, 1997). 

From 1970 to 1973 Dr. Loftus was an Assistant Professor and Graduate Faculty at New School University. From 1973 to 2002, Dr. Loftus has been employed with the University of Washington holding such titles as Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor. Dr. Loftus was also an Adjunct Professor of Law for the University of Washington between 1984 and 2002. Between 2002 and the present Dr. Loftus has been an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington for the Psychology department as well as the School of Law. Dr. Loftus received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health between 1971 and 1974 for her reseearch and in 1973 Dr. Loftus published her first book, Human Memory. For Dr. Loftus 1974 was a busy year, she worked for the Department of Transportation (until 1976) was a member of the editorial boards for the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and she published an article on memeory which thrust her into the courtroom as an expert witness. For one year (1975-1976) Dr. Loftus was a fellow of the American Council on Education and in 1976 Cognitive Processes was published. Dr. Loftus has been a member of the National Science Foundation and a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science (Loftus, 2008). 

Eyewitness Testimony was published in 1979 and also that year Dr. Loftus became Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. Also during 1979, Dr. Loftus began her research on repressed memories and eyewitness account due to the alarmingly high rates of childhood abuse and trauma. In 1980, Dr. Loftus published Law and Human Behavior and in 1981 Dr. Loftus found surprising information into how we remember and also why we forget. In 1983, Dr. Loftus was honored by being invited to present her work on memory to the Royal Society in London. Dr. Loftus and her husband Geoffrey Loftus were divorced in 1991. The Myth of Repressed Memory was published in 1994 with Remembering Dangerously right behind it in 1995. Dr. Loftus received the Distinguished Contribution Award from the American Academy of Forensic Psychology also in 1995 (Loftus, 2008). 

Dr. Loftus has been awarded six different honorary doctorates beginning in 1984 and receiving the last in 2006. She received her first honorary doctorate in 1982 from Miami University in Ohio. The second was received from Leiden University in the Netherland in 1990. Her third honorary doctorate, in 1994, came from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and was an honorary doctorate of laws. In 1998, she received her fourth honorary doctorate from the University of Portsmouth in England. The fourth and the fifth honorary doctorate were in 2005 and 2008, respectively and were from the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Oslo, respectively. 

Dr. Loftus has been of service to many different societies and has also served as President of many of these organizations. In 1984, she served as President of the Western Psychological Association (she also served as President for this organization in 2004-2005). She served as President of the American Psychology-Law Society in 1985 and as President of Division 3 (Experimental) of the American Psychological Association in 1988. From 1998 to 1999, Dr. Loftus served as President for the Association of Psychological Science (APS). 

Dr. Loftus has received many awards due to her work, in fact she has received so many that I am only able to mention a few of them here. In 1996, she received the American Association of Applied and Preventative Psychology (AAAPP) Award for Distinguished Contributions to Basic and Applied Scientific Psychology (Loftus, 2008). She received the James McKeen Cattell Fellow from APS in 1997 for "a career of significant intelletual contributions to the science of psychology in the area of applied psychological research." In 2001, Dr. Loftus received the William James Fellow from APS for "ingeniously and rigorously designed research studies...that yielded clear objective evidence on difficults and controversial questions." The National Academy of Sciences bestowed the inaugral Henry & Bryna David Lectureship award in 2002. This is an award for the "application of the best social and behavioral sciences research to public policy issues." In 2004, Dr. Loftus was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, then in 2005 she was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Also in 2005, Dr. Loftus won the Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology with a gift of $200,000. The prize was to honor ideas of "great significance and impact." Dr. Loftus was elected tothe American Philosophical Society in 2006. Most recently Dr. Loftus was named the 58th of the 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th century and was also the top ranked woman.