Eye Witness Testimony



Many things can affect how we remember events.

When considering the role of memory in law we find that eye witnesses recall can lead to incorrect convictions. 

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Bartlett (1932)

Came up with the idea of reconstructive memory which may explain why memoriesare often inaccurate.

Said that schema influence memory.

Schema is a cluster of related facts based on previsous experiences and used to generate future expectations. Schema help us make sense of the world they can also produce significant distortions in memory. 

Carmichael- words can alter the things we remember. They influence our recall of a stimulus figure, which he showed with a number of images with different words attached to them. 

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Cohen (1981)-Showed how an individuals schema for a particular occupation can affect recall. 

Particpants were more likely to recall the details of the job which fitted the sterotype for either a waitress or a libarian. 

Bartlett would say this shows that information is inconsistant with existing schema ignored.

Allport and Postman (1947)- participants would say a black guy had started a fight even though they were shown a picture of the white man starting it which shows that sterotypically people see balck people being angry and aggressive. 

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Problems with studies

These experiements used lab conditions and so they lack ecological validity as watching a video is unlike real life. 

Alports research is unrepresentative and has a cultural bias and theres also a historical bias as today sterotypes have changed. 

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Leading Questions

Leading questions can influence memory.

Loftus and Palmer (1974)- conducted experiements involving road traffic accidents and showed that words like 'smashed' implied a greater amount of speeds than 'hit'

Also, ''did you see THE broken headlight'' indicated that there was a broken headlight, even if there wasn't. 

HOWEVER, not all memories are influenced by leading questions as shown when she asked people to recall the colour of a purse.

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Criticising research into leading questions

It's highly artificial and so lacks generalisability. 

However this research has led to the development of the cognitive interview, which avoids asking leading questions. 

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Role of Emotion

The role of emotion has an effect on memory, but it depends on what emotion it is.

If you are a witness to a crime it's likely that you'd be fearful- this may impede or improve your memory. 

Freud- repress unpleasent memories to protect our ego.

Deffenbacher et al (2004)- analysed studies of eyewitness recall and found that high stress had negative accuracy, supporting Freud. 

Marleod et al (1986)- investigated eye witness reports and compared them to crimes with physical assults and those without, finding no difference in accuracy.

All evidence based on real life crime- ecological validity and mundane realism. 

No control over extraneous variables. 

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Flashbulb memories

Emotion may improve memory, e.g, flashbulb memories (Brown and Kulik 1977)

Research can show they don't exist- Odiniot et al 2009

Talarico and Rubin (2003)- asking participants to recall 9/11 attacks at different periods of time after the event. Showed that flashbulb memories do exist. 

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Weapon focus

Suggests focusing on a weapon makes you forget other details such as the offenders face.

Johnson and Scott (1978)- If a man was holding a pen witnesses were more likely to identify him than if he was holding a knife. 

This is because participants would have been focusing on the knife and not the offenders face.

This research has more ecological validity than Loftus. 

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Yerkes Dodson Curve

The evidence as to whether emotion enhances or impedes memory is unclear.

However, the Yerkes Dodson Curve shows a relationship between emotional arousal and level of performances, showing greater arousal affects memory. 

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Very important to understand how accurate eyewitness testimony is as it can lead to faulty convictions. 

Much research does not reflect real life emotions which you'd have if you actually saw a crime.

Demand characteristics leads to participant bias and often culture and gender bias. 

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The Devlin Committee

The Devlin Committee was set up to review crimes. It showed that in 347 cases where prosecution occured when EWT was the only evidence, 74 people were convicted.

Shows the overwhelming weight given to EWT by juries. 

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