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Age of witness

When we talk about EWT, there are some court cases, often those dealing with sensitive issues such
as abuse, when young children have to act as witnesses. Therefore, there is a need to establish if the
same factors that affect accuracy in adults also operate in children.
In their study, Parker and Carranza (1989) compared primary school children and college students by
showing them a slide sequence of a mock crime. Child witnesses had a higher rate of identification ,
although they were more likely to make errors of identification than college students. This showed
that young children tended to be more confident compaired to college students, as they didn’t take it
seriously, meaning that age influences accuracy in a good way, although it leads to a reduction in
confidence. One methodological issue of this study is that investigators have to be particularly
careful when using children, to make sure they understand the instructions and are paying attention.
This is because the informed consent they give might be affected by the discomfort they feel when
being under pressure or lack of seriousness. However, the fact that they are under pressure means
that the study will have high ecological validity as the conditions they are put in are similar to ones of
a real situation.
A study that criticizes the idea that age affects accuracy is one of Yarmey (1993), in which he stopped
651 adults in public places and asked them to recall the physical characteristics of a young woman
whom they had spoken for 15 seconds just 2 minutes earlier. The study showed that even adults
were more confident in their recall than the older ones, there were no significant differences in the
accuracy of recall. This means that age doesn’t influence the accuracy of EWT. As the research
method used is a field experiment, there are some methodological issues around this. One criticism
of a field experiment is that there is not high control over variables, therefore the experiment cannot
be replicated so easy. However, it has a high ecological validity, which means that the conditions
which the participants were put were similar to real life ones. This is an advantage because the
results are more likely to be reliable.
Another study of Mamon et al. (2003) tested the accuracy of young (16-33) and older (60-82)
eyewitnesses. It showed that when the delay between the incident and the identification was short,
there were no differences in the accuracy, whereas after a 2 weeks’ delay, the older witnesses were
significantly less accurate. This tells us that age has no affects on EWT in the short-term, but supports
the idea that it influences the accuracy in the long-term.
One criticism for the majority of studies which showed that older adults show poorer results on tests
of face recognition is that in most studies college-aged students were asked to identify similar-aged
targets, which might act as a stimuli. This suggests that as individuals encounter members of their
own age group more regularly, they become more expert in processing those faces and would
subsequently show better memory for them.To test this possibility, Anastasi and Rhodes (2006)
tested three age groups (18-25; 35-45; 55-78). Each participant was shown 24 photographs of a
mixture of age groups. Later they were shown 48 photographs (24 the same as before and 24
different photos). The participants had to say which ones they had been shown earlier.
It was found that generally the young and middle-aged group were better at recall, however, all
three groups were better at recognizing photographs of their own age group. This supports the idea
that age influences accuracy of EWT in the long-term, but states that it is more complex, as the
accuracy is determined by how familiar are the people’s faces to participants, meaning that they
belong to the same age group. As the research method used is a laboratory experiment, there are
some methodological issues around it. One criticism of it is that it lacks ecological validity, as the
situation is not like a real life one, therefore the results cannot be applied to real life. However, the
positive thing about a laboratory experiment is that there is high control over variables. This is a
benefit because the experiment can be easily replicated.
Based on the evidence provided, we can agree that age influences EWT, as most of the research
showed the difference in accuracy between various age groups. However, it has an impact on EWT
only to some extent, as it was found that this idea can be applied only to long-term recall.