A very comprehensive article by barrister Matthew Scott on whether or not those who make false allegations should be prosecuted. The Geoff Long case – in which it was proven (and indeed admitted) that the accuser lied – is the starting point. However, he goes further than the obvious legal ramifications and tackles the significance of false memory in the context of false accusations. What should be the approach to those who sincerely believe what they are saying is true but are mistaken? He quotes Shaw and Porter as part of building an argument that prosecuting these individuals may not be the best option:
“…false memories may actually be recalled in a way that is surprisingly similar to how memories for real events are retrieved. Consequently, as the results here indicate, true and false memories have many similar features— including being highly detailed and multisensory. These results are also in line with neuroimaging research showing that true and false memories evoke similar brain activation patterns … and that even highly emotional content may not reliably indicate memory accuracy …. Therefore, it may prove difficult in the real world to reliably tell the difference between true and false memories without independent corroboration.”
In other words, not only is it very hard for anyone listening to the false story to distinguish truth from fiction, there would be no reason even for the story tellers themselves to realise that they were not telling the truth.
It should be noted that although in the study false memories were implanted deliberately by the researchers, the tactics they used to do so mimicked the sort of thing that could easily happen accidentally in the “real” world.