Why Eyewitnesses Fail – Thomas Albright at TEDxSanDiego 2016

From NPR’s “Serial” podcast to the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” faulty eyewitness testimony has become a recent hot topic in pop culture chatter. While this issue has been around for a long time, recent advances in technology – especially DNA evidence – have resulted in more convictions being overturned.

Along with these shows, which are based on actual cases and include examples of eyewitness testimonies being called into question, the Innocence Project has reported nearly 350 DNA-based exonerations, with 3/4 of those cases counting on eyewitness identification for significant evidence that lead to a conviction.

So why do eyewitnesses identify the wrong people?

“There are insurmountable limits to visual perception and memory that are imposed by our biological nature and the properties of the world that we inhabit,” said Thomas Albright, professor and Conrad T. Prebys chair at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

According to Albright, and various research studies conducted over the past few decades, there are three factors that affect the usefulness of reported experience:

  • Uncertainty
  • Bias
  • Confidence

“Vision in general is far from perfect,” he said.

So, are eyewitnesses who testify in court not telling the truth? Not necessarily, according to Albright. In fact, when witnesses testify in court with confidence their description of the event – which they believe to be true – it’s difficult for the jury to discount their version of what happened.

Organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, are starting to take note of the limitations of human perceptions and memories, especially in the area of eyewitness accounts.

As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing, but neither seeing nor believing is equivalent to truth.”

Thomas Albright Profile

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Does Music Change a Child’s Brain? – John Iversen at TEDxSanDiego 2015

How does a person’s individuality, their likes and dislikes, skills and talents, depend on their particular brain growth? Neuroscientist John Iversen envisions a future where a person’s education is based on their specific brain development to help each person meet their highest individual potential.

Iversen imagines that when children go to the doctor and receive their height and weight measurements, their growth chart will also include brain growth measurements. Neurological mapping technologies can already show us measurements of the average growth in certain areas of the brain. So children will see how certain areas of their brain development compares to their age’s average, and which areas need more stimulation.

So what does music have to do with measuring brain development or influencing brain development? Neurological researchers often look for connections between behavioral measures and brain measures, but a less popular area of neurological studies is music cognition research.

We know that music evokes memories and has many positive academic and social benefits. Through neurological mapping technology we know that the brain is touched, activated and deactivated, by music, and this technology can show us exactly which areas of the brain are stimulated by music. Iversen wants to use music as a tool to help understand and influence the brain.

As a researcher for the SYMPHONY Study at UCSD, Iversen currently conducts a study in schools to examine correlations between music students and improved rhythm perception, rhythm perception and improved language tests, and finally beat perception tests and larger areas of the brain’s cortex. Iversen wonders whether music enlarges certain important areas of the brain and whether music can target the development of certain areas of the brain. Based on the suggestions of his profound research, Iversen makes a progressive claim about who can benefit the most from musical training.

John Iversen Website

SIMPHONY Study at UCSD

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