In Honor Of… Elizabeth Loftus
Honoring scientists who have made important and lasting contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.
Elizabeth Loftus, PhD
University of California, Irvine
From the beginning, Elizabeth Loftus had no desire to work on abstract problems, preferring instead to tackle real-world ones—and her research revolutionized how we think about memory, and how we apply it to the law. Over more than 30 years, her research has shown us that our memories are chock full of false details, mistaken “facts,” and impossible events.
Loftus received her PhD from Stanford, and is now a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine. She also holds positions in the Departments of Psychology & Social Behavior, Cognitive Sciences, Criminology, and Law & Society, and she is Professor of Law. Before moving to Irvine, she was a Professor of Psychology and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she taught for 29 years.
She has published 22 books and over 500 scientific articles. Her 4th book, Eyewitness Testimony, won a National Media Award (Distinguished Contribution) from the American Psychological Foundation. One of her most widely read books, The Myth of Repressed Memory (co-authored with Katherine Ketcham) was published by St. Martin’s Press and has been translated into Dutch, Taiwanese, French, German, Japanese and other foreign languages.
Loftus has been an expert witness or consultant in hundreds of cases, including the McMartin PreSchool Molestation case, the Hillside Strangler, the Abscam cases, the trial of Oliver North, the trial of the officers accused in the Rodney King beating, the Menendez brothers, the Bosnian War trials in the Hague, the Oklahoma Bombing case, and litigation involving Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, and the Duke University Lacrosse players. Loftus also she has worked on numerous cases involving allegations of “repressed memories”, such as those involving George Franklin of San Mateo, California, Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, and Gary Ramona of Napa, California.
She has served the scientific community in many capacities: as the 1984 President of the Western Psychological Association, and again as President during 2004-05, in 1985. President of the American Psychology-Law Society (Division 41 of APA), and in 1988 as the President of Division 3 (Experimental) of the APA. Finally, she was President of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) during 1998-1999.
Loftus has also received many honors and awards for her research and her public contributions, including several honorary doctorates. In 1995 she received an award from the American Academy of Forensic Psychology – their Distinguished Contributions to Forensic Psychology Award. In 1996 she received the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology (AAAPP) Award for Distinguished Contribution to Basic and Applied Scientific Psychology. In 1997 she received from APS the James McKeen Cattell Fellow (“for a career of significant intellectual contributions to the science of psychology in the area of applied psychological research”). She received the William James Fellow Award from the APS, 2001 (for “ingeniously and rigorously designed research studies…that yielded clear objective evidence on difficult and controversial questions.”)
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences bestowed upon her the inaugural Henry & Bryna David Lectureship (an award for “application of the best social and behavioral sciences research to public policy issues”). The article that she wrote in conjunction with this award was subsequently selected for inclusion in The Best American Science and Nature Writing. In 2003, the same year that she received the APA Distinguished Scientific Award for Applications of Psychology, she was also elected to membership of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. In 2004 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 2005, she won the Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology (to honor ideas of “great significance and impact”), and with it came a gift of $200,000. Also in 2005 she was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is Scotland’s national academy of sciences and letters, established in 1783. Also in 2005, she received the Lauds and Laurels Faculty Achievement Award less than three years after arriving at the University of California, Irvine. The award “recognizes a faculty member who has achieved great professional prominence in their field for their contributions to research, teaching, and public service….a role model and has contributed to the excellence of UCI.” She was the 9th recipient of the award in the history of the University. In 2006, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society, which is the oldest learned society in the United States, Est. 1745 by Benjamin Franklin. In 2009 she received the Distinguished Contributions to Psychology and Law Award from the American Psychology-Law Society. In 2010, she received the Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists (for “significant contributions to the understanding of the phenomenology of human memory, especially its fragility and vulnerability to distortion”).
Loftus is no stranger to controversy, consistently taking opportunities to discuss ideas that offend people in some circles. This quintessential facet of her personality has led her to face a costly lawsuit—and win the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in January 2011, for “the profound impact that her pioneering research on human memory has had on the administration of justice in the United States and abroad.”
One of the most unusual signs of recognition of the impact of Loftus’s research came in a study published by the Review of General Psychology. The study identified the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, and not surprisingly Freud, Skinner, and Piaget are at the top of that list. Loftus was #58, and the top ranked woman on the list.
Individuals Honoring Elizabeth Loftus
Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard University
Shari Berkowitz, Roosevelt University
Daniel M. Bernstein, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Kent C. Berridge, University of Michigan
Gordon Bower, Stanford University
Stephen J. Ceci, Cornell University
Frederick Crews, University of California, Berkeley
Susan Fiske, Princeton University
* Maryanne Garry, Victoria University of Wellington
Dedre Gentner, Northwestern University
Edith Greene, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Hunter G. Hoffman, University of Washington
C. Ronald Huff, University of California, Irvine
Alan G. Kraut, Association for Psychological Science
Linda J, Levine, University of California, Irvine
D. Stephen Lindsay, University of Victoria
R. Duncan Luce, University of California, Irvine
Giuliana Mazzoni, University of Hull
Kathleen McDermott, Washington University in St. Louis
J. Don Read, Simon Fraser University
Henry L. Roediger, Washington University in St. Louis
* Daniel Schacter, Harvard University
Carroll S. Seron, University of California, Irvine
Steven J. Sherman, Indiana University
William Thompson, University of California, Irvine
Gary L. Wells, Iowa State University
Daniel B. Wright, Florida International University
* The FABBS Foundation would like to thank Dr. Maryanne Garry and Dr. Daniel Schacter for nominating Dr. Loftus for this honor and for leading the effort to spread the word about her nomination.