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Ontario Tech acknowledges the lands and people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.

We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.

This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.

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UOIT researcher discusses the making of false memories

Dr. Joseph Eastwood, Assistant Professor, FSSH, UOIT.
Dr. Joseph Eastwood, Assistant Professor, FSSH, UOIT.

Just how easy is it to plant false memories during questioning?

A recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Science has found that manipulating someone’s memories is really not that difficult. Seventy Canadian university students were interviewed three times across several weeks regarding a crime they supposedly committed when they were adolescents – but that did not actually happen. The interviewers used the following tactics to get participants to distrust their memory:

  • Feed false details about the case that the participants’ parents supposedly provided.
  • Suggest that the participants can remember the details if they just try hard enough.
  • Ask them to visualize the past event and how it might have happened.

By end of the third interview, 70 per cent of participants reported having this false memory the interviewers had planted, and could even fill in specific details about who was there and what had happened.

Dr. Joseph Eastwood from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) was recently interviewed on several CBC Radio One stations across Canada, including Ottawa Morning, to provide his insights on this topic.

According to Dr. Eastwood, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities (FSSH), the study showed just how malleable memories are. “Memory is a reconstructive process,” he says. “If you get people to distrust their memory and work at trying to remember something, and if you feed them a few details, their memory will fill in the missing details to create a plausible story. Over time this false memory can become real and vivid to the individual.”

For Dr. Eastwood, who is involved in police interview training, including a new collaboration with the Durham Regional Police Service, this research has important implications for the justice system. During police interviews, it can be easy to introduce new information to the interviewee, even if the introduction is unintentional. For example, an officer might mention a specific detail of the case, such as the presence of a weapon, which might get incorporated into a witness’ testimony without the witness actually having any memory of that detail.

“Police must make sure the questions they’re asking, and the way they’re asking them, isn’t contaminating the memory of the person being interrogated,” Dr. Eastwood says. “The interviewees should have a chance to tell their story, uninterrupted and unedited, so no information is mistakenly introduced into their accounts.”

Manipulative or confrontational questioning techniques can put individuals under intense pressure, wearing them down until they begin believing they committed the crime. This can result in a false confession and years spent behind bars for a crime the individual did not commit.

Social workers, doctors, nurses and others who receive testimonies from people also need to be aware of how easily memory is tainted, especially when they are dealing with cases involving children, whose memories are more easily influenced.

Interviews were also done in: 

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Kamloops, British Columbia
  • Kelowna, British Columbia
  • Kitchener, Ontario
  • Regina, Saskatchewan
  • Subury, Ontario
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba