Eyewitness accounts that form the basis of the judicial system can be easily contaminated revealed an Australian study.
The study of researchers from the University of Sydney discovered that people add extra det
ails or even alter their memory if they talked about their recollection with someone who witnessed the same event.
The experiment involved test subjects watching a video of house burglary independently without knowing there were two different versions of the event.
The results showed that most test subjects reported recalling specific details that were not present in the version that they had watched, following discussion between co-witnesses.
Dr Helen Paterson, a researcher who studies chatter between co-witnesses and its function as a potent delivery mechanism for false memory said, it was a subconscious process.
A false memory, according to Dr Paterson is the recollection of an event, or details of an event that did not actually happen.
She said there is a high likelihood for a witness to add in misinformation presented by a co-witness into their own memory of an event if they have been discussing it with them.
When two people shared details of the same event they had witnessed, Dr Paterson said they could find it difficult, if not impossible to filter the true memories from the information they have just received.
Even when deliberate misinformation was brought in, warning the witness about it seemed to have no effect as they remained unable to distinguish fact from misinformation.
It was found that discussions between co-witnesses had more effect on a person's memory than exposure to incorrect media reports or leading questioning, said Dr Paterson.
It does seem that once a false memory has been implanted, it is very hard to shake it off.
Dr Paterson stated, Once their memory has been contaminated in this way, the witness is often unable to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate memories.
The research highlighted the need for courts and police to discourage interaction between co-witnesses - who were often prevented from hearing each other's testimony in court, said Dr Paterson.
However, discussions among witnesses are usually difficult, if not impossible to prevent as they often do talk to each other about the event.