Memory loss by perpetrators often feigned
In his inaugural address, Marko Jelicic stated that most of the perpetrators who claim they do not remember the crimes they committed are not telling the truth. He bases this finding on recent neuropsychological research on the role of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in storing memories of life events. 'While the study demonstrated that repression does not exist, this awareness has not yet infiltrated legal practice. Witness experts can carry out relatively simple tests to help them distinguish between authentic and feigned memory loss.'
The hippocampus plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short to long-term memory. During emotional and stressful events, the hippocampus is activated, leading to a marked improvement rather than a decline in our working memory. 'Many psychiatrists and psychologists who serve as witness experts believe that traumatic events, which includes committing violent crimes, can lead to memory loss. But they're not taking into account how the brain actually works.'
According to Jelicic, perpetrators can benefit from claiming amnesia; it absolves them from having to talk about the crimes they are ashamed of committing. Perpetrator amnesia or memory loss also suggests that the crime was impulsive rather than premeditated, which can lead to a reduced sentence. 'This is another reason to raise awareness among witness experts for the fact that neuropsychological research has effectively disproven the assumption that traumatic events can be repressed.'
Jelicic is convinced that perpetrator amnesia is only possible if the crime was committed while hippocampal activity was temporarily or permanently disrupted due to alcohol, drugs, epilepsy or a head injury. Only in those cases would a perpetrator be unable to remember the event. 'I would estimate that in 80% of cases, the hippocampus is still intact, which means amnesia is not possible. In the other 20% of cases in which perpetrators claim crime-related amnesia due to alcohol or drug use, special tests can be administered to determine whether they’re telling the truth.'
Note for the press
Professor Marko Jelicic will deliver his inaugural address titled, 'When I woke, it had already happened: On perpetrator amnesia' (Toen ik wakker werd was het al gebeurd: Over dader-amnesie) on Friday 10 June 2016 at 16.30. Location: Maastricht University Administrative Building, Minderbroedersberg 4-6.
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