Saturday, March 22, 2008

Did Hillary Clinton lie?

On March 17, Hillary Clinton described her arrival to the Balkans on a trip in 1996 thusly:

I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

But video footage of her arrival seems to indicate otherwise.

So did she lie? I wouldn't call it that. We're talking about something that happened 11 years ago. I don't think she lied, I think she actually just formed a false memory, which is something else altogether, and it's really easy to do.

In fact, one of my favorite ever psychology professors, Melissa Grinley, did a really fascinating research project she called "Tourist Memory Distortion". The study involved 129 undergraduate psychology students. The students were told they were participating in a study of advertising techniques and were asked to view ads for Disney Resorts and then to rate the ads. They were then asked to rate their own memories of childhood visits to Disney Resorts. In the experimental condition, the Disney ads contained Bugs Bunny, a Warner Brothers character who does not actually ever make appearances at Disney Resorts. In the study, several (14) of the students in the control condition remembered having met Bugs Bunny at Disney world, and 4 of those 14 indicated that their memory was a "remember" type of memory rather than a "know" type of memory, by which the meant they didn't just *know* they had seen Bugs at Disney World, they actually *remembered*, in an episodic way, having met him. It's a fascinating study and it demonstrates just how easily our memories can be manipulated, and how easy it is to construct, based on false information, a vivid memory for something that never even happened.

No doubt some people will find this really disturbing, and I'd like to point out that in writing this post, I'm not in any way trying to imply that, for instance, sexual abuse victims whose perps have claimed their memories are false should not be taken seriously. On the contrary, I'm rather inclined to believe the victim and call the perp a liar, merely based on factual evidence about the prevalence of sexual abuse in our culture--I'm guessing way more often than not it actually *did* happen.

I merely wanted to point out that I wouldn't call Hillary's mis-memory a lie. I don't think she was intentionally misdescribing what happened as she remembered it. Rather, I think she has, over the past 11 years, falsified the memory--not intentionally, just because that is what happens to us. We're astoundingly human, and it's just too easy to do.

If you want to read the whole study by Melissa Grinley, email me at benjaminDOTAdy AT and I'll email you a bootleg copy.

1 comment:

byron smith said...

Fascinating experiment.