#84: Elizabeth Loftus on the Societal Implications of Psychology
Cognitive Revolution | Elizabeth Loftus built her career to the pinnacle of controversy and influence. In this episode we uncover how she got there.
This is Cognitive Revolution, my show about the personal side of the intellectual journey. Each week, I interview an eminent scientist, writer, or academic about the experiences that shaped their ideas. The show is available wherever you listen to podcasts.
My guest this week is Elizabeth Loftus. She is generally considered to be the most highly cited female psychologist of all time. She is also a controversial figure within the field. Her research has looked at the unreliability of eye witness metaphor and the nature of false memories. She’s used this compelling line of research to testify as an expert witness in court. Though she’s testified on behalf of a range of defendants, the most publicized cases she’s participated in have been high-profile men, such as Harvey Weinstein. She was the subject of a recent New Yorker profile, which delved into the legacy of this work—as well as providing detailed speculation on the root causes of why Beth is so drawn to the topic of false memories and why she’s dedicated so much of her career to bringing these topics to light in legal proceedings.
In this conversation, we talked about Beth being the only woman in her mathematical psychology PhD program at Stanford; being voted least likely to succeed as a psychologist; finding a topic she actually cared about; finding a way to apply it; her first case applying psychology to legal proceedings. I also get Beth’s take on the NYer piece about her life, the controversy that’s followed her work, and whether there are limits to role that abstract knowledge can play in societal events.
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