American Philosophical Society
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1Name:  Dr. Elizabeth F. Loftus
 Institution:  University of California, Irvine
 Year Elected:  2006
 Class:  3. Social Sciences
 Subdivision:  305
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Living
 Birth Date:  1944
For more than three decades, Elizabeth Loftus has been delving into the mysteries of human memory. Her fascination with memory began shortly after completing her undergraduate education at UCLA (where she majored in mathematics and psychology) when she was half way through her graduate education at Stanford, where she received a Ph.D. in psychology. That education helped to transform her from a puzzled, uncertain adolescent into a psychological scientist. Today, Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine. She holds positions in the Departments of Psychology & Social Behavior, and Criminology, Law & Society. She also holds appointments in the Department of Cognitive Sciences and the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Formerly, she was Professor of Psychology and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she taught for 29 years. Dr. Loftus's early studies were about semantic memory -- memory for language, concepts and general knowledge of the world. Soon she wanted to study some aspect of memory that had more obvious real-world applications. With a background in memory and a keen interest in legal issues, it was natural to turn to the study of witnesses to legally relevant events, like crimes and accidents. Her earliest studies of eyewitness testimony addressed several issues: When someone sees a crime or accident, how accurate is their memory? What happens when witnesses are questioned by police officers, and what if those questions are biased? Her early findings revealed that leading questions could contaminate or distort a witness's memory. Dr. Loftus began to apply these findings to issues in the justice system, where eyewitness testimony is often crucial evidence. Over the last several decades, she has published extensively on eyewitness memory, covering both its psychological and legal aspects. She has also investigated the issue of the accuracy of memories formed in childhood, and the possibility of recovery later in life of memories of traumatic events that had apparently been repressed. She has devoted much research effort to the possibility that recovered memories may be false, false memories that in some cases are due to therapeutic treatments designed to help patients dredge up memory. She has done scores of studies that show that memories can be distorted by suggestive influences, but also that entirely false memories can be planted in people's minds. She has succeeded in planting false memories of getting lost for an extended time as a child, facing a threat to one's life as a child, witnessing demonic possession as a child, seeing wounded animals as part of a traumatic bombing, and more. Because of the research, Dr. Loftus has been invited to consult or to testify 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 Michael Jackson case, the Bosnian War trials in the Hague, the Oklahoma bombing case, and the Martha Stewart case. Dr. Loftus also worked on numerous cases involving allegations of "repressed memories", such as the case involving Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. The research also has given her opportunities to consult with many government agencies on problems of human memory, including the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Dr. Loftus has received eight honorary doctorates for her research, the first in 1982 from Miami University (Ohio), and the most recent from Australian National University in 2020. She was the 1998-99 President of the Association of Psychological Science and also served twice as President of the Western Psychological Association. For her research, Dr. Loftus has received numerous awards. She received the two top scientific awards from the Association of Psychological Science: The James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award in 1997 ("for a career of significant intellectual contributions to the science of psychology in the area of applied psychological research") and, in 2001, the William James Fellow Award (for "ingeniously and rigorously designed research studies that yielded clear objective evidence on difficult and controversial questions"). 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 (for Outstanding Ideas in the Science of Psychology), which came with a $200,000 monetary prize. That same year she was elected Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (which is Scotland's National Academy of Science & Letters, Est 1783 - some 40 years after the establishment of the American Philosophical Society). Also that year, she was honored by her own university (UC- Irvine) with the Lauds & Laurels, Faculty Achievement Award, (for "great professional prominence in their field" in research, teaching and public service; 9th recipient in UCI history). Loftus received the Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 2010, the UC Irvine Medal in 2012, the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2013, and the Cornell University Lifetime Achievement in Human Development, Law & Psychology Award in 2015. Perhaps one of the most unusual signs of recognition of the impact of Dr. Loftus's research came in a study published by the Review of General Psychology which identified the top 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Well known names top the list: Freud, Skinner, and Piaget. Elizabeth Loftus was number 58, and the top ranked woman on the list.
Election Year
2006 (1)