There is currently an intense debate in the Behavioural and Cognitive Science field over the reliability of memory.
On one side of the debate are those who believe that everything we see, do, touch, smell or hear goes into memory somewhere although not all of it can be retrieved. On the other side are those that think that memory is malleable, approximated and unreliable.
"I seem to recall reading a study that showed that people can be made to remember anything," said Una Dostray, a cognitive memory expert from Milton Keynes University. "Although, I could be mistaken."
Central to the argument for both sides is so called 'Baby Memory', those memories laid down when we are all just infants.
"The current predominant theory," said Dostray, "is that everything goes in and stays there. Which would mean that all the things we have done from before even the day we were born should be somewhere in our memories. Psychologists have even attributed some phobias to dormant womb memories."
Dostray isn't in this camp.
"I think that there is a lot wrong with this theory," she said. "For a start, no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember anything about being born or learning to walk. Nor can anybody. Indeed, we have shown that memory appears to be flexible, transient and full of holes."
Dostray has completed a five year study into the malleability of memory by convincing the faculty that she had spent five years into doing a study into the malleability of memory. Additionally, they have interviewed people at various times after showing them a film they have been asked to remember as much of as they can.
"We discovered that even a week after watching the film, their memory of the film appears to be largely made up on the spot when we ask them about it," Dostray said. "We can make them add whole scenes by prompting them before asking questions. We got one man convinced he'd seen a porn film, not the documentary on Everest we'd actually shown him. I think he enjoyed his memory more than he did the actuality."
If Dostray and her colleagues are right, witness statements after crimes are particularly prone to error.
"Fortunately, we don't solely rely on eye witnesses," said Police Inspector Jerry Riggs. "We also beat confessions out of those who match the description."