Without a doubt, the human brain is one of the most complex and amazing organs that has ever evolved on Earth.
Through electrical impulses and chemical reactions, the brain allows us to perceive the world, feel emotions, express creativity, regulate our bodies without having to think about it, dream, learn new things and remember them later. It's a bit — ahem — mind-boggling how much the brain can actually do.
As incredible as it may be, though, the brain isn't perfect. It routinely takes shortcuts in order to save time and energy with processing information. In fact, taking advantage of these shortcuts is what allows us to be tricked by optical illusions.
Unfortunately, not all of the brain's shortcomings are fun and games. In the case of criminal justice, the faults of the human brain can be the difference between prison and freedom, even life or death.
As Vanessa Hill from Brain Craft explains, even though the criminal justice system is heavily reliant on eyewitnesses and confessions, they aren't always as reliable as we'd like them to be.
Subtle suggestions can actually alter memories, making information given during interrogations or eyewitness testimony inaccurate, which is why neuroscientists have been saying for years that a person's eyewitness account, no matter how well-intentioned, is probably not conclusive.
Police investigations can be so emotionally draining, people who are completely innocent have actually confessed to crimes they didn't commit, just because it seemed easier than enduring more interrogation or because they became confused. This is particularly true for those with mental illness.
Check out the video in full to find out why the human memory is the weakest link in a criminal investigation:
Thankfully, forensic science is much harder to fool and is clearing the names innocent people who have been incarcerated all the time.
Cover image: PBS/BrainCraft