Return to Transcripts main page


How Credible is Eyewitness Testimony?; Living with Schizophrenia; Patient's Desperate Search for Donor; Dealing with Depression

Aired November 5, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello and welcome to the program. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

This morning, I'm with the pioneer of natural health, Dr. Andrew Weil. He's an old friend of mine. And he's here to talk about something that might surprise you, his own personal struggle with depression. He's also got some help for the rest of us.

Also, a young entrepreneur, you might know his Web site, he suddenly faces a deadly diagnosis. He and his friends are now using their creativity to try and find the solution. We'll explain.

But, first, this week, the U.S. Supreme Court began to review just how accurate eyewitness testimony is. They're doing this for the first time since the 1970s.

Now, science shows our memories and our powers of perception are far less reliable than we believe. There's a whole host of factors that influence what we see from stress to time, even suggestibility.

In fact, psychologist Jeff Lott (ph) has been able to recreate what the impact of distance is. For example, if you were standing about 50 feet away from me, this is what I would look like. At 100 feet, though, I would look something like this. At 200 feet, like this. You get the idea here. Foour hundred feet, I'm pretty much unidentifiable.

But even when we're up close, our minds aren't always as receptive as we think they are. In fact, we set up an experiment at the CNN Center with my good friend and colleague Elizabeth Cohen who is getting ready to tape a story in the food court.

Now, as Elizabeth is in the middle of her segment, there's an interruption. When we asked bystanders what they noticed, it surprised us what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The woman -- she looked a little upset.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had like a red-colored looking dress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was wearing a two-piece suit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was brown or blue maybe. I'm not sure. Not sure.


GUPTA: Now, the perpetrator is my producer Trisha. If you were paying attention you would have noticed her big goofy glasses, but that she was wearing a black dress and purple sweater. It's all very fascinating.

Joining me to talk this and more, David Eagleman. He's author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." He's with us today from San Francisco.

Welcome back to the show, David. Good to have you.

DAVID EAGLEMAN, AUTHOR, "INCOGNITO": Good to be here, Sanjay.

GUPTA: So, what did you think of that scenario we showed there. There was an interruption as Elizabeth was doing her piece. And people really had a hard time identifying some specifics. What did you make of that?

EAGLEMAN: Well, this is very typical. This is always what happens with eyewitness testimony, if you have a crowd, people's perceptions are not terribly reliable. And more importantly, their memory of what they just saw tends to quickly drift around.

And so, this has been a problem. There are probably 2,000 papers in the cognitive science literature on this nowadays about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.

GUPTA: In fact, you've said it's some of the worst technology that's in use in courtrooms, because, you know, you think of eyewitness testimony, you think if you have an eyewitness, that's going to pretty much seal the deal. You're saying no so fast?

EAGLEMAN: Well, yes. That's the interest part is that it does seal the deal. For jurors, it is extraordinarily swaying for someone to say, look, I don't know about all that other stuff, but I know what I saw and I saw this with my own eyes. That has an incredible amount of sway on jurors.

But the reason I say it's the worst technology in the courtroom is because when you compare it to the other sorts of techniques that are allowed to be introduced into courts, those all go through strict verification processes. And there's debate whether they should be allowed in the courtroom. For example, neuro-imaging evidence.

But when it comes to eyewitness testimony, that gets a free pass, where everybody assumes it's probably pretty good, and it's not.

GUPTA: You look at something with your eyes, your brain is processing it, your seeing with your mind. Your brain is making decisions on what is necessary to see.

I mean, how does the brain make that -- even with Elizabeth and Trisha there, how is the brain deciding to focus on one thing and ignore something else really obvious. What factors really come into play there?

EAGLEMAN: Well, really, all we ever see is our internal models of what we think is out there. So, if you think oh, there's a person and there's some interference, part of it is the data that's coming between these two holes in your skull, but a lot of it is what you believe you're seeing. And, of course, this is how magic tricks work is that it's very easy to have your attention pulled in one place or the other. And you believe you've seen something, even though what happened right in front of your place is something else.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because this is obviously coming before the Supreme Court and this is your area. I mean, if you were giving advice or testifying, is there a way to quantify how reliable eyewitness testimony is or how well somebody remembered something in terms of how correct it was?

EAGLEMAN: Now, in the legal system, the only way we can estimate this is by looking at, for example, the number of exonerations that have happened based on DNA evidence and then look at how many of those people were actually convicted based in whole or in part on eyewitness testimony. And what you find is that the vast majority of them had eyewitnesses in the case that said I know that's the guy. I'm 100 percent sure that's the guy who did it and that's the one I saw.

But, in fact, we find out later they were exonerated. So, the numbers are 190 out of 250 exonerated cases relied on large part on eyewitness testimony.

GUPTA: It's absolutely amazing. And you and I are both into neurosciences, but the tricks that can be played on our brains and our minds, I know you delve into this stuff. It's always fascinating to speak with you.

By the way, leather jacket, blue shirt, ring on your left finger and a mike on your lapel right here. Right? Got it.

EAGLEMAN: Yes, that's right.

GUPTA: I think you wore that jacket the last time we spoke as well. That could be my mind playing tricks. I don't know. David, thanks so much for joining us.

EAGLEMAN: No, it's the same jacket, different shirt. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Hope to have you back again soon.

I want to introduce you now to Ashley Smith. She's a young woman and she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. It's a mental illness we don't talk about enough. And it is misunderstood often as well.

But Ashley is determined to not let her troubles get in the way of carrying her dreams.


ASHLEY SMITH, DIAGNOSED WITH PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIA: I heard voices. I saw images of people following me that scared me.

GUPTA (voice-over): Ashley Smith knows what it's like to nearly lose it all.

SMITH: I thought my life was in danger. I felt like my family members and strangers on the street were against me.

GUPTA: When she was in college, her sanity started slipping away.

SMITH: I thought everyone was against me.

GUPTA: Overwhelmed, Ashley blamed it on stress.

SMITH: I would pray a lot about it. And I thought that if I just continued to cope with it the best way I knew how, that I would get through it.

GUPTA: But she didn't. Ashley stole a military truck and led police on a high-speed chase. She ended up in jail.

Two months went by before Ashley received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, along with treatment.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says more than 2 million Americans have schizophrenia. But in the African-American community, mental illness is often misunderstood and is not often discussed.

But Ashley did something remarkable. She decided to be open about her diagnosis with the goal of helping others.

SMITH: Do I look like a person with schizophrenia? There's no (INAUDIBLE) to illness.

GUPTA: Today, she helps train law enforcement officers. They learn to recognize signs and symptoms of people with mental illness to help the officers intervene in a crisis.

Ashley has also started her own nonprofit organization, Embracing My Mind, which helps low income and homeless people get help. She's studying to be therapist.

SMITH: It's a life-long process to overcome schizophrenia. I do it through my medication, my support network which is my treatment team and my peers and family.

GUPTA: Ashley hopes sharing her story will reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

SMITH: Those who are newly diagnosed or are suffering or struggling with this illness, there are going to be ups and downs, but it is very manageable. And that you can succeed.


GUPTA: Schizophrenia, in case you're wondering, typically appears for the first time in someone's 20s or 30s. Still ahead, you'll meet another Gupta. He has no relation to me, but he needs our help. I've already done my part. I'm hoping you do yours as well. We'll explain.

Stay with us.


S. GUPTA: Leukemia is a word no one wants to hear. The young man I'm about to introduce you to is diagnosed with it, specifically acute myelogenous leukemia. It's a type of cancer that starts in bone marrow.

Amit Gupta, he needs a transplant, and he needs it soon. Without a match, his five-year survival is about 30 percent to 35 percent. But a perfect match would double his chance of survival. Problem is that people with South Asian ancestry are severely underrepresented in the bone marrow donor pool, along with many other minorities. In fact, the odds of Amit finding a perfect match are without one in 20,000.

And Amit Gupta joins us now from Woodbridge, Connecticut.

First of all, I should point out we have the same last name. But we are not related. But I've been hearing so much about you on social media, so many tweets and Facebook.

First of all, let me just ask, how are you doing? You just finished chemo a few days ago, right?

AMIT GUPTA, WEB ENTREPRENEUR: A couple weeks ago. I'm doing well. I start my next round in about a week. And this is the best I'll feel for the next six months or so.

S. GUPTA: Right. When you're going through it or immediately after, how tough is it for you?

A. GUPTA: Towards the end it gets kind of rough. There's a lot of mouth symptoms and just fatigue. It gets tough.

S. GUPTA: You're barely 30 years old. Before all this, you were perfectly healthy, right? You never had a problem or any health problems to speak of.

A. GUPTA: Yes, not really.

S. GUPTA: So what happened? I mean, when did you first notice you weren't feeling well and it was serious?

A. GUPTA: I think early in September, I just started feeling tired a lot. Other than that, I just had a couple other things like I spiked a fever one weekend. Bright lights started looking really bright. Just random things.

And I went to see my doctor, one thing led to another and he told me I had leukemia.

S. GUPTA: Again, this is always a tough question to ask. You're a young guy. You hear news like this. What goes through your mind?

A. GUPTA: It just felt so unfair. Honestly I think I cried more in that first week than I have in my entire life. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, which isn't something I'm proud of, but it was a hard week.

S. GUPTA: I think anybody would completely understand that, myself included. I mean -- so you're an entrepreneur. You're someone who has had success in this world. At some point do you say, OK, let me try using my skills to try and do something for myself and for people who like me?

A. GUPTA: Yes. There's lots of different ways. We haven't really used other types of media besides social media so far, and we went from having two drives, one planned for my friends in New York and another in San Francisco to having 30, 40, 50 drives across the United States, some in Australia, some in Canada.

The National Marrow Donor program told us they have had higher traffic to their site in the past two weeks than they have ever had in the past. We actually brought the site down the first day that we started talking about this.

S. GUPTA: Is that right? So, the registry for bone marrow donors actually went down because of this. What we're talking about here is drives to try and register people to become bone marrow donors.

A. GUPTA: That's right.

S. GUPTA: What does that mean? Can you explain what the process is for someone to do that?

A. GUPTA: Sure. It's pretty easy. Basically, it's much more difficult than a blood match test. So, they need to get people in the registry in case you end up matching someone someday. What you do, give you a couple swabs, Q-tips, and you just rub the inside of your mouth gently with Q-tip and they do a DNA typing on that to see if you're going to be a match for someone.

S. GUPTA: And to be clear, I'm in the bone marrow registry because I did exactly what you described, I used a swab. And I'm in the registry.

You know, one thing that strikes me as well when I talk to people about this. They worry if they become -- this is an apprehension. If they are a donor, it's going to involve actually a painful procedure to give bone marrow to transplant. That causes some anxiety.

Do you know or can you explain what the process is, if someone -- let's say you and I were a match. And I was called and said that you're a match for him. What would that be asking of me?

A. GUPTA: So, basically what they do is they do like a thorough health test. There's no cost to you for any of this. But they do a thorough health test to make sure that you are healthy and you're able to donate. A few days before my transplant is supposed to happen, they would give some medications that you would overproduce your bone marrow cells basically and they would spill over into your blood.

And then the process of actually harvesting those bone marrow cells is similar to giving blood. They basically hook you up to a line in one arm and a line in another and they are able to filter the bone marrow out without a needle or invasive procedure.

S. GUPTA: I think it's important for people to hear. So, it's like giving blood in the end to try and provide bone marrow for someone like Amit and lots of other people out there.

Look, I wish you the best of luck. I hope this helps. I hope people are watching and hear your story and want to help you because it's really not that hard, and for a lot of other people as well.

Thanks for joining us. We'll keep in touch. We'll keep tabs. Please keep checking in with us.

A. GUPTA: Thank you so much.

S. GUPTA: And if you want to help out Amit, check out his Web site at There's information about upcoming drives and information about becoming a donor as well. Keep tabs on him, post a link on my Lifestream at Good luck, buddy.

Up next: Andrew Weil on beating depression, something surprising about him. And also finding happiness, something we can all learn. You're not going to want to miss this.


GUPTA: You know, the World Health Organization predicts that less than -- in less than 20 years, depression will be the second most widespread illness in world, behind only HIV/AIDS.

Even now in any given year, one in 10 Americans suffers from a mood disorder. It makes you wonder exact what's happening here.

And who can help us understand this better than Dr. Andrew Weil. He's written a new book called "Spontaneous Happiness" which offers a few ideas. Thanks for joining us again.

You and very gotten know each other over the years and I have to say when I started reading this book, some of this surprised me just about you, because this is something you haven't shared your own struggles with depression. First of all, you are doing well now, right?

DR. ANDREW WEIL, AUTHOR, "SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS": Well, this was in my 20s, 30s and 40s, mostly. And as I have gotten older, it has receded. I think some of that may have to do with getting older, but I think a lot this from lifestyle changes that I've made I wanted to share that information. I never had major depression.

GUPTA: What was it like for you?

WEIL: You know, that there were many days, periods where more days than not, I would wake up just feeling in a blue mood. I often didn't feel like getting out of bed and doing things. I would go ruminate about feelings of worthlessness and I also found I withheld myself from social interaction when I was in that state, which is probably one of the worst things I could do, because scientific research says that social interaction is strongly protective against depression.

GUPTA: You have -- obviously, people know who you are, know some of the things you stand for in the world of medicine and health, what did you do at that time, years ago, for your own depression?

WEIL: I tried various forms of psychotherapy, which I didn't think felt much more me. AT one point, I filled a prescription for Zoloft and took it for a few days and stopped because it made me feel terrible. It made my body feel bad and it numbed my mind. And then I decided maybe this is something I have to live with it is existential.

And I also had a sort of feeling somehow my creativity was linked to these periods. And I have talked about that in the book. There was a striking correlation between creativity, artistic success, literary success and depression.

And there is a very interesting new idea of depression that comes out of evolutionary psychology, suggesting that we may be programmed to be depressed because it's a state of inward focus and rumination maybe the way we solve problems. So, there may be a value in experiencing depression, as long as it is not overpowering.

At any rate, as I say, I made a lot changes in my life, in midlife, one of them was becoming more physically active. Another was taking regular doses of fish oil and eating oily fish, getting my vitamin D levels to the right level.

GUPTA: I've used (ph) some of these things because of you myself.

WEIL: Good. Good. Good.

But then also I became very flood meditation, and some of the techniques of eastern psychology for managing thoughts because I think, for most of us, thoughts are usually the source of sadness, anxiety, fear and it's a real challenge to learn how to do that. One way is by improving attention and doing meditative practice.

GUPTA: Were you doing this to try to stave off your depression or something you were learning about simultaneously?

WEIL: I think it was both, and I knew that would be good thing for me to do. And over the years, that practice has been very valuable to me. I rarely have -- I rarely experience depression today. And even when bad things happen to me or I have to deal with bad situations, I think I bounce back from them pretty quickly. And that kind of resilience I think is something that can be cultivated.

GUPTA: You have been productive your whole life, seemingly. But this had idea that you're more creative in these periods were you're blue or you're --

WEIL: Not necessarily in the periods but coming out of them. GUPTA: I see.

WEIL: It seems like I dip into some well and get ideas and thoughts. I just had had a sense had that that was so.

GUPTA: You come out with some burst of productivity?

WEIL: Right, exactly.

GUPTA: Medication -- and your views on a lot of medications are pretty well known but for people thought listening who have serious depression, a serious illness here. What do you tell them?

WEIL: Severe depression is a severe illness, and that needs to be managed professionally. And that management might include the use of medication, certainly for bipolar disorder I think medication is critical. And I would never tell anybody to stopped that.

But there is growing body of scientific of evidence, that SSRIs, most popular anti-depressants are not that good. You know, a lot of data showing for most cases, they work no better for placebos, certainly in mild to moderate depression. They are not benign, nor they have toxic effects.

The most important problem that's recently been cited is that they create their own need, that when you increase serotonin at neural junctions, the body responds very logically by making less serotonin and dropping serotonin receptors. So, it then becomes very hard to get off.

GUPTA: Right.

WEIL: And this is called the tardive dysphoria now, the lingering depression caused by the drugs.

So, I think people want to use these, it might be good to use them for a limited period and then figure out other things you can be do and get off them.

GUPTA: It's always fascinating to speak with you, and I'm glad you're well.

WEIL: Thanks.

GUPTA: Congratulations on the book.

Take care of yourself, don't tour too much. People will buy the book.

And we'll be right back with a good laugh. I promise. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Last but not least this morning, I tell you this all the time, but laughter really is the best medicine.

So, here is a bit of "The Daily Show" from Halloween, as it turns out at my expense.


MINDY KALING: So, I was actually thinking that I wanted to come as you. I thought that would be a funny costume. I was going to do like, you know, wear a suit and everything. But then I thought, if you were just flipping through the channels, you'd be like, oh, Sanjay Gupta is on "The Daily Show."


GUPTA: Mindy Kaling, ladies and gentlemen. And there it is, our moment of Zen.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. Thanks for being with us. You can stay connected with me throughout the week on my Lifestream at and also follow me on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

We'll see you right back here next week.

And time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories in "THE CNN NEWSROOM."