Our intuitions can deceive our memories

We were recently discussing the case of the Station Strangler serial killings between 1986 and 1994, where 22 young boys were murdered and their bodies dumped across the Cape Flats.

Over the years since Norman Azval Simons was convicted for the crimes, and which was based on the murder of just one of the victims, conspiracy theories have abounded that the matter was "resolved" due to political pressure given the looming elections in 1994.

But experts have said that there was only one eyewitness who gave evidence during his trial, and that the testimony was questionable.

More recently, we had the trials of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani, and once again, eyewitnesses were grilled by the legal teams, and contradictions emerged.

One cannot help but ask how reliable our memories and recollections are, especially given the length of time between an event and when it needs to be recalled at a much later date when a trial or inquest takes place.

There have been many cases where the wrong person is charged and convicted for crimes they did not commit, due to poor or manipulatd eyewitness evidence, but due to the efforts of organisations such as The Innocence Project, old cases are being revisited and innocent people are set free, even after spending many years behind bars. Here is one such example (click here)

Professors Chris Chabris and Daniel Simons have done a number of experiments to show how our memories can be distorted due to a number of factors, and have written the book "The Invisible Gorilla".

The title of the book is based on a 1999 video experiment they did, which has gone viral over the years:

Often in eyewitness cases with crime, people tend to pay more attention to the weapon, and that draws their attention away from the people involved

Prof Chris Chabris - Co-Author "The Invisible Gorilla"

Kieno Kammies spoke to Prof. Chabris to discuss how our memories can't always be trusted:

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