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Credability Of Eyewitness Testimony Essay

1222 words - 5 pages

Credability of Eyewitness Testimony

Is Eyewitness testimony reliable and accurate? Include case studies to
back this up.

EWT refers to evidence supplied by people who witness a specific
event or crime, relying on their own memory. Statements often include
descriptions given in a criminal trial and subsequent identification
by individuals who were present at the crime scene. EWT is likely to
dependent on reconstructive memory(Bartlett,1932) which describes how
memory is more than a passive recall. It is the active process of
building up memory using fragments to fill gaps of an event in memory
plus the expectations and assumptions (schema) of that event. This
form of EWT is not 100% accurate as it is relying on the schema to
fill in these gaps and varies from person to person. Reconstruction is
not the only form of distortion in EWT as language; leading questions
and post-event information may even distort reconstruction, further
leading to memory to use and confabulation.

Loftus and Palmer found that changing the wording of one critical
question ("About how fast were the cars going when they
(hit/smashed/collided/ bumped/contacted-the five conditions) each
other?") posed to eyewitnesses of a car accident had a significant
effect on the estimated speed of the vehicles. Loftus and Palmer found
that estimated speed was influenced by the verb used. The verb implied
information about the speed, which systematically affected the
participants' memory of the accident. Those who were asked the
question where the verb used was "smashed" thought the cars were going
faster than those who were asked the question with "hit" as the verb.
The mean estimate when "smashed" was used was 41mph, versus 34mph when
"hit" was used. Further research on the effect of language (Loftus &
Zanni, 1975) found that the definite article ("the") was more leading
than the indefinite article ("a") as only 7% of those asked about a
broken headlight said they had seen it, compared to 17% of those asked
about the broken headlight, when in fact there was no broken headlight
in the film.

Emotion can also affect the accuracy of memory. It can enhance recall
or suppress it. Loftus (1979) was called as an expert witness on the
psychology of memory initial of a shop assistant, Melville, had
identified a robber Jose Garcia. One of the points she made into
memory was research, was about the effects of emotion. Melville was in
a state of extreme distress after seeing a colleague was shot, and
psychologists have found that arousal of stress have a negative on
memory recall- especially the STM.

Although the EWT is useful, Bartlett and Loftus has been very useful
in highlighting the potential biases in EWT and these insights have
been applied to the cognitive interview. Loftus' research on EWT has
had a...

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