Elizabeth Loftus, who was instrumental in leading the public debunking of the false memory/satanic ritual abuse hysteria in the 1990s, was recently named as the winner of the 2005 University of Louisiana Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. As the press release announcing the award notes,
The fifth awarding of the $200,000 prize for outstanding ideas in the field of psychology is to Elizabeth Loftus, whose research on false recollections and the reliability of eyewitness reports and memories “recovered” through therapy has affected the way law enforcement agencies and the court system view such testimony.
The psychologist has shown that people not only forget but also falsely remember, meaning that they sincerely and vividly can recall events that never happened when information suggested to them becomes entwined with their memory of what actually happened. She points out that the individual may not be able to separate the real threads of memory from the added strands of suggestion.
Loftus’ research has implications for law and for psychotherapy’s methods of probing memory. Interest in both has led to her popularity as a speaker, author, journal editorial board member and expert trial witness. She has testified or consulted in many nationally publicized cases, including trials involving Michael Jackson, Rodney King and the Oklahoma City bombing. Her many honors include both of the American Psychological Society’s top awards and an American Psychological Association award; she also has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Loftus paid a high person and professional price for standing up for good old fashioned science and standards of evidence at a time when many preferred to continue to take at face value wildly improbable stories of widespread satanic cults. She deserves this award and so much more for her work.
Psychology award criticized. Associated Press, December 1, 2004.
2005 – Elizabeth Loftus. Grawemeyer Award for Psychology, Press Release, November 30, 2004.