The Power of Suggestion
Updated: Jun 5, 2021
Clayton T. Robertson (Criminal Defense / Civil Litigation Attorney)
As a former prosecutor, I know many of the tricks of the trade. So it infuriates me when I watch body-cam videos by law enforcement showing how they misleadingly question witnesses and suspects. They not only frequently use leading questions that suggest an answer, but they also word their questions in a way that can influence the memories of those questioned.
This point can be illustrated very simply. Elizabeth Loftus, one of the world's leading memory researchers, conducted an experiment as far back as the 1970s showing the power of suggestion and how the words used in questions can influence memory, resulting in implanted events or details in a person's recollection that didn't occur or weren't present. While this cognitive phenomenon is likely more pronounced in persons who are more susceptible to suggestion, such as children, it unfortunately can affect us all (and does).
The following excerpt is taken from a book titled Covert Persuasion (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006):
"In an experiment done in the 1970s by Elizabeth Loftus (one of the world’s leading memory researchers), people viewed slides of a pedestrian-auto accident. They were shown a slide of a red Datsun (a sporty little car) at a yellow Yield sign. The group was asked, “Did you see another car pass the Datsun at the stop sign? When asked, most of the group remembered a Stop sign instead of a Yield sign. The verbal information, the words, and the question by the researcher altered the memory of what they had seen."
These types of suggestions from authority figures (such as officers) are all the more problematic. For these reasons, among others, you need a smart attorney who is aware of these issues, and who knows the best experts in the field to defeat the prosecution's false claims.