October 16, 1944
Bel Air, California, United States
Elizabeth F. Loftus (born 1944) is an American psychologist who is best known in relation to the misinformation effect, false memory and criticism of recovered memory therapies.
Loftus's research includes the effects of phrasing on the perceptions of automobile accidents, the "lost in the mall" technique and the manipulation of food preferences through the use of false memories. In the Jane Doe case that began in 1997, Loftus and Melvin J. Guyer revealed serious concerns about the background and validity of the initial research. She has also served on the executive council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and was a keynote speaker at the British Psychological Society's 2011 annual conference.
As well as her scientific work, Loftus has provided expert testimony or consultation for the lawyers on over 300 court cases, including for the legal teams of Ghislaine Maxwell, Harvey Weinstein and Robert Durst. She has also written many books, including The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories & Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Witness for the Defense.
Born Elizabeth Fishman on October 16, 1944, Loftus grew up in a Jewish family in Bel Air, California.: : Ch. 2 : When Loftus was 14 years old, her mother drowned.:Her father (Sidney Fishman) was a doctor and her mother (Rebecca Fishman) a librarian.: 
She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1966,: : 2followed by a master's and PhD in mathematical psychology from Stanford University in 1967 and 1970 respectively.: Her thesis was entitled "An Analysis of the Structural Variables That Determine Problem-Solving Difficulty on a Computer-Based Teletype".
From 1968 to 1991, Elizabeth was married to fellow psychologist Geoffrey Loftus.: 31
From 1970 to 1973, Loftus was employed as a cognitive psychologist at the New School for Social Research in New York City,: 17 after becoming dissatisfied with university work such as calibrating math and word problems for fifth-grade students.: 17 At the time, she had also been investigating semantic memory with Professor Jonathan Freedman at Stanford University.: 17
Loftus was employed at the University of Washington from 1973 to 2001, initially as an assistant professor. She shifted from laboratory work to using "real world" situations of criminal court cases.:
Around this time, the Department of Transport was offering funding for research into car accidents. Loftus's first experiment in this area involved showing 45 students videos of car crashes and then asking the students to estimate the speed of the car. Her findings were that the mean estimates of the speeds were 32 mph when the question was phrased as the speed that the cars "collided", 34 mph when the question was phrased as "hit each other" instead, and 41 mph when the question was phrased as "smashed each other". Loftus concluded that "these results are consistent with the view that the questions asked subsequent to an event can cause a reconstruction in one's memory of that event".
In 1974, Loftus published two articles with her observations about the conflicting eyewitness accounts in a particular murder trial and about the reliability of witness testimony in general. This resulted in several lawyers contacting her about current cases, beginning her career of paid work providing advice to lawyers.:: Early attempts for Loftus to act as an expert witness for these lawyers were deemed inadmissible by judges, however in June 1975 Loftus presented the first expert witness testimony in Washington State on the topic of eyewitness identification.:
In 1990, George Franklin was on trial for murdering a young girl 20 years prior. The prosecution's evidence included eyewitness testimony from Franklin's daughter that she had witnessed the murder, based on a recovered memory which was unearthed during a therapy session a year before the trial. The defense attorney had a theory that the daughter had never seen the crime and that the testimony was based on a false memory. Loftus was employed by the attorney to provide expert testimony in support of this theory. Loftus referred to an experiment where she showed people video of a crime and then an incorrect television news report about the crime. Afterwards, the viewers had mixed up some events from the original video with those in the news report. Loftus argued that the same must have happened to Franklin's daughter, causing a "memory" of an event that she hadn't witnessed.
However, the prosecutor forced Loftus to admit that she had never studied memories like those of Franklin's daughter. Loftus's studies found that people could misidentify random perpetrators, not that they could mistakenly accuse their own fathers. It was also not proven that memories could be wholly invented, rather than altered. The prosecution was successful and Franklin was convicted.:
In 1991 there were several high-profile examples of people having recovered memories of being molested by their parents, which gained Loftus's attention. Loftus read several books[which?] teaching women and therapists how to recover memories of sexual abuse, and urging therapists to ask their clients about childhood incest.: Part IV Also in 1991, Loftus was deemed an honorary fellow of the British Psychological Society.
Around this time, Loftus's undergraduate student Jim Coan developed the "lost in the mall" technique.:This technique involved Coan giving his younger brother three stories of actual events from his childhood, plus a false story about the brother being lost in a mall. The younger brother believed all stories to be true and provided further details of the false story.
A similar experiment by Loftus found that 25% of subjects believed that they could remember the event which had never taken place, however this study was criticized by Lynn Crook and Martha Dean based on the ethics of the subject recruitment method used and Kenneth Pope has argued she inappropriately generalized the findings to draw conclusions about false memories and therapeutic techniques. A later study by Loftus (involving 332 undergraduate students who received course credit for participating) found that approximately one third of students accepted as true a false story about having their ear licked by a drug-addled Pluto character during a childhood visit to Disneyland.
Following the publication of these studies, armed guards accompanied Loftus at lectures.:Also, Loftus had previously received death threats after the publication of her 1994 book The Myth of Repressed Memory.: The same year, Loftus received an In Praise of Reason award from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
In the 1997 New Hampshire vs Joel Hungerford case, the judge set strict conditions on the admissibility of recovered memory testimony.
In 1997, psychiatrists David Corwin and Erna Olafson published a case study of a recovered memory of apparently genuine childhood sexual abuse, which became known as the Jane Doe case. Loftus and Melvin Guyer interviewed Jane's stepmother who revealed that she was involved in building a case against Jane's mother in a battle for custody of Jane. Jane contacted the University of Washington and accused Loftus of breaching her privacy. The university put Loftus under investigation, including confiscating her files. The investigation lasted for 21 months, during which she was not allowed to share her findings. The university cleared Loftus of breaking research protocols, and Loftus and Guyer published their findings in 2002.
Loftus's invitation to give the keynote address at the New Zealand Psychological Society's conference in August 2000 provoked the society's director of scientific affairs, John Read, to resign from his position and for conference attendees to distribute materials critical of Loftus' work. Loftus stated that she "didn't wear her best jacket" to give her address for "fear of flying tomatoes". Prior to the conference, Loftus was the subject of several internet posts by conspiracy theorist Diana Napolis which alleged that Loftus was conspiring to help child molesters.
By 2001, Loftus had become disappointed with the University of Washington's unwillingness to stand by her during the controversy involving the Jane Doe case, so she left the university. The same year, Loftus received a William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science.
From 2001 to 2003, Loftus worked for the University of California, Irvine, (UCI) as a distinguished professor in the department of Criminology, Law and Society and the department of Psychological Science. She was also a fellow in the UCI Department of Cognitive Sciences and the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Her work included an experiment on 131 undergraduate students in relation to preferences for cookies and strawberry ice cream. The students were given false information that they had become sick from these foods when they were under 10 years old, and were asked before and afterwards to rate the likelihood of this event having occurred.
In 2002, Loftus was ranked 58th in the Review of General Psychology's list of the 100 most influential psychological researchers of the 20th century. The following year, Loftus received the American Psychological Association's award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology and presented the associated speech at 2003 APA's convention. Also in 2003, Loftus was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2003, the Taus v. Loftus case in the Supreme Court of California saw Loftus, Melvin J. Guyer and Skeptical Inquirer magazine being sued by Nicole Taus regarding the article they published about her case. The lawsuit included 21 claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and fraud. Initially, all but one of the claims was dismissed. The remaining claim was regarding Loftus misrepresenting herself as Corwin's colleague and supervisor while interviewing Taus's foster mother. In August 2007, the remaining claim was withdrawn by Taus, after reaching an agreement that Loftus's insurance company would pay a settlement of $7,500 to Nicole Taus. The following year, Loftus published her studies on the case.
In 2004, she attempted to implant a false memory in Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers. Alda did not accept the false memory of becoming sick as a child from eating a hard-boiled egg. Loftus stated that Alda's questionnaire result changing from 1 to 2 (out of 8) from "definitely don't happen" to "happened" supported the false memory theory. The variance in Alda's pre- and post-experiment responses was not stated. Loftus attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposium in November 2006. In 2005, she received the Grawemeyer Award for psychology from the University of Louisville, the 2010 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
From 2011 to[when?], Loftus was on the executive council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Loftus was a keynote speaker at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in 2011, held in Glasgow on May 4–6.
In June 2013, Loftus presented at the TEDGlobal Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was also the keynote speaker at the 2013 Psychonomic Society annual meeting, held in Toronto, Canada, on November 14–16. In 2016, Loftus received the John Maddox Prize, In 2015, Loftus received an honorary doctorate in psychology from Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2018, she won the Western Psychological Association's Lifetime Achievement Award and the University College Dublin's Ulysses Medal.
Loftus has testified in over 300 cases, and consulted on many more. Her involvement in legal cases includes:
Loftus has also been involved with the cases for Ted Bundy, O.J. Simpson, Rodney King, Oliver North, Martha Stewart, Lewis Libby, Michael Jackson, the Menendez brothers and the Oklahoma City bombers.
Loftus has written or co-authored many journal articles and books, including the 1987 paper co-written with Jane Goodman titled "How to Play to the Jury You Select" and the 1994 book titled The Myth of Repressed Memory.
Loftus, herself Jewish, declined to testify because she worried that it would upset family and friends.
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The only other witness expected to take the stand on Durst's behalf, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, spent most of Wednesday and Thursday under blistering cross-examination from Lewin.