Elizabeth F. Loftus, PhD


Irvine, California, USA

Elizabeth F. Loftus, PhD, was named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century for her pioneering research on memory and her advocacy of science in practical applications of psychology and law. Her work has been acclaimed as significantly advancing the fairness of the legal system. As Robyn Fivush, professor of psychology at Emory University, puts it, "No one says memory’s infallible anymore.”

Dr Loftus earned her doctorate at Stanford University. She is distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine, where she holds positions in the Psychology, Criminology, Social Behavior, Cognitive Sciences Departments, as well as the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. She continues as affiliate professor at the University of Washington’s Psychology Department and School of Law where she taught for nearly 30 years.

Dr Loftus’ early interests were in the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. She discovered many ways that memory could be altered, such as by suggestion and leading questions. Her findings were of greatest interest to the legal system and she began a career of research about memory, applying the findings to real-life court cases. In the 1990s, she went on to tackle a veritable plague of criminal allegations of childhood abuse which had been substantiated only with memories that were long “repressed” and had been “recovered” by hypnosis or other forms of suggestive psychotherapy. Her defense of evidence-based findings about memory makes her a lightening rod for controversy that has even put her personal safety at risk.

Dr Loftus has served as a consultant and/or expert witness for various government agencies and in numerous high-profile legal cases, such as those involving the McMartin Preschool, the Hillside Strangler, Abscam, Oliver North, Rodney King, Menendez brothers, Michael Jackson, Bosnian War trials in the Hague, Oklahoma City bombing, George Franklin, Cardinal Bernardin, Gary Ramona, and Paul Shanley.

Selected Books:

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Eyewitness Testimony: Civil and Criminal, with James M. Doyle & Jennifer E. Dysart (LexisNexis, 4th edn., 2007). This edition offers courtroom-ready trial techniques and the latest psychological research concerning such issues as jurors’ beliefs about eyewitness testimony, the factors that may impede perception and memory, and illustrates the consequences and effects of eyewitness testimony in both criminal and civil trials. Among the various issues discussed are: understanding the eyewitness’s memory as the real crime scene; evaluating eyewitness cases from the prosecutor’s, plaintiff’s and defendant’s perspectives; telling good social science from “junk”; analyzing memory evidence as “trace evidence” and what that means; and mobilizing eyewitness science without the eyewitness expert.

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The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse, with Katherine Ketcham (St. Martin’s Press, 1994). According to many clinical psychologists, when the mind is forced to endure a horrifying experience, it has the ability to bury the entire memory of it so deeply within the unconscious that it can only be recalled in the form of a flashback triggered by a sight, a smell, or a sound. Indeed, therapists and lawyers have created an industry based on treating and litigating the cases of people who suddenly claim to have “recovered” memories of everything from child abuse to murder. This book reveals that despite decades of research, there is absolutely no controlled scientific support for the idea that memories of trauma are routinely banished into the unconscious and then reliably recovered years later. Since it is not actually a legitimate psychological phenomenon, the idea of “recovered memory” — and the movement that has developed alongside it — is thus closer to a dangerous fad or trendy witch hunt. [extract]

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Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, with Katherine Ketcham (St. Martin’s Press, 1991). As Dr Loftus has explained in numerous trials as an expert witness, and as she argues in this book, eyewitness accounts can be and often are so distorted that they no longer resemble the truth.

  • Eyewitness Testimony: Psychological Perspectives, with Gary L. Wells, eds. (Cambridge University Press, 1984). Topics examined are eyewitness memory as a function of age, the adequacy of intuition in judging eyewitness memory, and the relationship between confidence and accuracy. Also includes chapters on hypnosis, lie detection, and legal aspects of the dangers inherent in eyewitness identification testimony.
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Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget (Addison-Wesley, 1980).

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Eyewitness Testimony (Harvard University Press, 1979; 1996). Dr Loftus here makes the psychological case against eyewitness testimony. Beginning with the basics of eyewitness fallibility, such as poor viewing conditions, brief exposure, and stress, Dr Loftus moves to more subtle factors, such as expectations, biases, and personal stereotypes, all of which can intervene to create erroneous reports. She also shows that eyewitness memory is chronically inaccurate in surprising ways. A series of experiments reveals that memory can be radically altered by the way an eyewitness is questioned after the fact. New memories can be implanted and old ones unconsciously altered under interrogation.


Do Justice and Let the Sky Fall: Elizabeth F. Loftus and Her Contributions to Science, Law, and Academic Freedom, by Maryanne Garry & Harlene Hayne, eds. (Psychology Press, Festschrift Series, 2006). This biography collects research in theoretical and applied areas of human memory, provides an overview of the application of memory research to legal problems, and presents an introduction to the costs of doing controversial research. The first chapter gives a sketch of Loftus’s career in her own words, and the remaining chapters color in that sketch.

Selected Articles and Chapters:


  • “Treat and trick: a new way to increase false memory” (with B Zhu, C Chen, C Lin & Q Dong), Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2010 Dec; 24(9):1199-1208. [DOI]
  • “Truth in emotional memories” (with C Laney), in BH Bornstein & RL Wiener, eds., Emotion and the Law: Psychological Perspectives (Springer, 2010):157-184.
  • “False memory” (with C Laney), in J Brown & E Campbell, eds., in The Cambridge Handbook of Forensic Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 2010):187-194.
  • “Bad theories can harm victims” (with SJ Frenda), review of The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children—and Its Aftermath by Susan A. Clancy (2010); Science, 2010 Mar; 327(5971):1329-1330. [DOI]
  • “Change blindness and eyewitness testimony” (with C Laney) in GM Davies & DB Wright, eds., New Frontiers in Applied Memory (Psychology Press, 2010):142-159.
  • “Eyewitness memory” (with N Steblay), in EB Goldstein, ed., Encyclopedia of Perception (Sage, 2010):442-443.
  • Individual differences in false memory from misinformation: Personality characteristics and their interactions with cognitive abilities” (with B Zhu, C Chen, C Lin, Q He, C Chen, H Li, G Xue, Z Lu & Q Dong), Memory, 2010 Jul; 18(5):543-555; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-18. [DOI]


  • “Emotional content of true and false memories” (with C Laney), Memory, 2008 Jul; 16(5):500-516. [DOI]
  • Lasting false beliefs and their behavioral consequences” (with E Geraerts, DM Bernstein, H Merckelbach, C Linders & L Raymaekers), Psychological Science, 2008 Aug; 19(8):749-753. [DOI]
  • “False memories for end-of-life decisions” (with SJ Sharman, M Garry, JA Jacobson & PH Ditto), Health Psychology, 2008; 27(2):291-296; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2009-33. [DOI]
  • “The persistence of false beliefs” (with C Laney, NB Fowler, KJ Nelson & DM Bernstein), Acta Psychologica, 2008 Sep; 129(1):190-197. [DOI]
  • Pluto behaving badly: false beliefs and their consequences” (with SR Berkowitz, C Laney, EK Morris & M Garry), American Journal of Psychology, 2008; 121:643-660.
  • “The Red Herring technique: a methodological response to the problem of demand characteristics” (with C Laney, SO Kaasa, EK Morris, SR Berkowitz & DM Bernstein), Psychological Research, 2008 Jul; 72(4):362-375. [abstract]
  • “Asparagus, a love story: healthier eating could be just a false memory away” (with C Laney, EK Morris, DM Bernstein & BM Wakefield), Experimental Psychology, 2008; 55(5):291-300. [abstract]
  • “Repressed and recovered memory” (with M Garry & H Hayne), in E Borgida & ST Fiske, eds., Beyond Common Sense: Psychological Science in the Courtroom (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008):177-194.
  • The potential perils of informed consent” (with J Fries), McGill Journal of Medicine, 2008 Nov; 11(2):217-218.
  • “Repressed and recovered memories” (with NB Fowler & KJ Nelson), in BL Cutler, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law (Sage, 2007), 2:688-691.

  • Accuracy of eyewitness identification is significantly associated with performance on a standardized test of face recognition” (with CA Morgan, G Hazlett, M Baranoski, MA Doran & A Southwick), International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, 2007; 30:213-223.
  • False claims about false memory research” (with KA Wade, SJ Sharman, M Garry, A Memon, G Mazzoni & H Merckelbach), Consciousness & Cognition, 2007 Mar; 16(1):18-28. [DOI]
  • “Setting the record (or video camera) straight on memory: the video camera model of memory and other memory myths” (with SL Clifasefi & M Garry), in S Della Sala, ed., Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain (Oxford University Press, 2007):60-75.
  • “If memory serves” (with RL Steinberg), The Wall Street Journal, 2007 Mar 9; p. A14. (Op-ed) [listing]
  • Foreword to On the Witness Stand: Essays on Psychology and Crime, by Hugo Munsterberg (Greentop Academic Press, 2007):.

  • “Changing beliefs and memories through dream interpretation” (with GAL Mazzoni, A Seitz & SJ Lynn), Applied Cognitive Psychology, 1999 Apr; 13(2):125-144. [abstract]
  • “Repressed memories: When are they real? How are they false?” (with DC Polage), The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 1999 Mar; 22(1):61-71. [abstract]
  • “Repressed memories and World War II: some cautionary notes” (with SO Lilienfeld), Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 1998 Oct; 29(5):471-475.
  • The price of bad memories,” Skeptical Inquirer, 1998 Mar-Apr; 22(2):23-24.
  • “Repressed memories: scientific status” (with L Rosenwald), in DL Faigman, DH Kaye, MJ Saks & J Saunders, eds., Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony (West Group Publishing, 1997):535-550.
  • “Womb with a view: memory beliefs and memory-work experiences” (with M Garry, SC DuBreuil & SW Brown), in DG Payne & FG Conrad, eds., Intersections in Basic & Applied Memory Research (Psychology Press, 1997):233-255. [excerpt]
  • The truth, the whole truth and & nothing but the truth?Los Angeles Times, 1995 Aug 25:B9. (Op-ed)
  • Remembering dangerously,” Skeptical Inquirer, 1995 Mar-Apr; 19(2):20-29.
  • “The accidental executioner: why psychotherapy must be informed by science” (with EM Milo & JR Paddock), The Counseling Psychologist, 1995 Apr; 23(2):300-309. [DOI] [excerpt]
  • “Sexual abuse accusations: desperately seeking reconciliation” (with L Berliner), Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1992 Dec; 7(4):570-578. [DOI] [excerpt]
  • “Is this child fabricating? Reactions to new assessment technique” (with GL Wells), in J Doris, ed., The Suggestibility of Children’s Recollections (APA, 1991):168-171.

Watch Elizabeth Loftus:

What’s the matter with memory?” Best of Chautauqua, 2009.

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Honorary Degrees:

  • Doctor of Science, Miami University (Ohio), 1982
  • Doctorate Honoris Causa, Leiden University, The Netherlands, 1990
  • Doctor of Laws, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 1994
  • Doctor of Science, University of Portsmouth, England, 1998
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa, University of Haifa, Israel, 2005
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, University of Olso, 2008

Selected Awards:

  • The Joseph Priestley Award (2009)
  • American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology (2003) [article]
  • William James Fellow Award from the American Psychological Society, for “ingeniously and rigorously designed research studies … that yielded clear objective evidence on difficult and controversial questions” (2001)
  • National Academy of Sciences’ (Inaugural) Henry and Bryna David Lectureship, for “application of the best social and behavioral sciences research to public policy issues” (2001)
  • American Psychological Society James McKeen Cattell Fellow, for “a career of significant intellectual contributions to the science of psychology in the area of applied psychological research” (1997)
  • American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology Award for Distinguished Contribution to Basic and Applied Scientific Psychology (1996)
  • Distinguished Contributions to Forensic Psychology Award, American Academy of Forensic Psychology (1995)

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