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Tortured Memories

September 29, 2009

Using torture to extract information from suspects may have the opposite of the intended effect.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Torture’s failing grade…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Governments sometimes justify the use of torture based on the assumption that it’s a good way to elicit the truth from suspects. But evidence from brain studies suggests that it may actually have the opposite of the intended effect. This according to neuroscientist Shane O’Mara of Trinity College Dublin. He says coercive techniques increase stress hormones, damaging areas of the brain involved in memory.
SHANE O’MARA (Trinity College Dublin):
So you’re actually probably destroying the very material that you’re trying to recover.
HIRSHON:
What’s more, the stress could even cause suspects to relate false memories which they believe to be true.
SHANE O’MARA (Trinity College Dublin):
As s result of these stressor states being induced, we know that subjects often show confabulation, that is they utter memories which turn out not to be true but they believe them to be true. You’re actually predisposing a situation where the subject may recall things which did not actually happen.
HIRSHON:
He says non-coercive interrogation techniques yield much more reliable information. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.