But as a scientist, she says sharing how to implant memories -- so we can potentially learn how to protect against it -- is better than burying the information.
Walking the line
In 2006, Loftus attended a talk by legal scholar Adam Kolber on the legal and ethical implications of memory-dampening drugs. According to Kolber, neuroscientists had made significant strides in creating medications victims could take after a traumatic event to dampen the intensity of their memories. Kolber contended that while those drugs could hamper legal proceedings, "We have a deeply personal interest in controlling our own minds that entitles us to a certain freedom of memory."
Loftus was fascinated. "I thought to myself, 'I would want (the drugs),'" she says. Her colleague disagreed. So like any good experimental psychologist, Loftus started a study.
She asked people if they were the victim of a vicious crime, would they want to take the drug? Eighty percent said no. Well, maybe they want to be able to testify against the perpetrator, Loftus thought. So she ran it again -- this time asking if they would take the drug after seeing their military buddy blown up by an IED overseas. Eighty percent refused.
"I thought, maybe I need to explain to them just how bad post-traumatic stress disorder is," she remembers. So she did. "And they still don't want the drug."
The results taught Loftus just how much people cherish their memories.
"Even if it's going to be a harmful memory, they don't want to let it go," she says. "(This is) why sometimes I get such resistance to the work I do. Because it's telling people that your mind might be full of much more fiction than you realize. And people don't like that."
But you don't need a psychological researcher to distort your memory in a lab, Loftus says. People distort their own memories all the time -- they remember getting better grades than they did, voting in more elections than they did, having kids that walked or talked earlier than they actually did. Loftus calls this "prestige-enhancing memories."
We all want to remember ourselves as just a little bit better than we really are, Loftus says, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Scientists call it "depressive realism," and say depressed people may just remember things more accurately than the rest of us.
"A little bit of memory distortion might be good for people," Loftus says.
This from the woman who has the power to make us remember traumatic childhood events that never happened. Hey, at least we still like ice cream.