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Week 6 Readings: Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases

Eyewitness Testimony: What happens when a person witnesses a crime (or


accident, or other legally important event) and later gets up on the stand and
recalls for the court all the details of the witnessed event.
Research suggests that:
- Eyewitness testimony is probably the most persuasive form of evidence
produced in court, but in many cases, its accuracy is dubious.
- Mistaken eyewitness evidence can lead to wrongful conviction.
Faulty eyewitness testimony has been implicated in at least 75% of DNA
exoneration cases more than any other cause.
- Many of the errors may be avoidable if proper precautions are taken during the
investigative and judicial processes.
Misinformation effect: A memory error caused by exposure to incorrect
information between the original event and later memory test (e.g. an interview,
lineup, or day in court).
Corrupted by leading questions
E.g. Stop & Yield sign example.
- Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that memory can be contaminated by
erroneous information that people are exposed to after they witness an event.
- Young adults are often susceptible to misinformation but children and older
adults can be even more susceptible.
- Misinformation effects can occur easily without any intention to deceive.
Even slight differences in wording can lead to misinformation effects.
E.g. Did you see the broken headlight VS Did you see a broken headlight.
- Misinformation can corrupt memory even more easily when encountered in
social situations.
Corrupted by conversations with co-witnesses
Particularly in cases: where more than one person witnesses a crime. Witnesses
tend to talk to each other in the immediate aftermath of crime. They may notice
different things and remember different things.
When they communicate about the crime later, they reinforce common
memories for the event and contaminate each others memories for the event.
E.g. Eric the electrician (Pg 489)

Week 6 Readings: Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases


Identifying Perpetrators
- Eyewitnesses can make serious, but often understandable and even predictable,
errors.
US: Lineups are typically conducted with pictures called photo spreads, rather
than actual ppl standing behind a one-way glass. Eyewitness given photo spreads
one is the police suspect, the rest are foils.
If the eyewitness identifies the suspect, the investigation of that suspect is
likely to progress. If not, police may choose to move their investigation in
another direction.
Photo spreads: A selection of normally small photographs of faces given to a
witness for the purpose of identifying a perpetrator.
Foils: Any member of a lineup (whether live or photograph) other than the
suspect
Mock witnesses: A research subject who plays the part of a witness in a study.
Errors can be made in 2 ways:
1. Fail to pick the perpetrator out of a target present lineup (picking up foil/not
making a selection)
2. Pick a foil in a target absent lineup.
Factors that make eyewitness identification errors particularly likely:
- Poor vision/viewing conditions during crime
- Particularly stressful witnessing experiences
- Too little time to view the perpetrator or perpetrators
- Too much delay in witnessing and identifying
- Being asked to identify a perpetrator from a race other than ones own.
Its hard for the legal system to do much about most of the problems.
Things that the justice system can do to help lineup identifications go
right:
- Investigators can put together high-quality, fair lineups.
Fair lineup: One which the suspect and foils are equally likely to be chosen by
someone who has read an eyewitness description of the perpetrator but who has
not witnessed the crime. AKA no one in the lineup should stick out, and all
should match the descriptions given by the eyewitness.
- Better ways to conduct line-ups
- Double blind lineups
- Unbiased instructions for witnesses
- Conducting lineups in a sequential fashion

Week 6 Readings: Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases

Kinds of Memory Biases


Our memory systems take advantage of the recurring patterns by forming and
using schemata we dont have to spend energy noticing redundancies.
Schemata: A memory template, created through repeated exposure to a
particular class of objects or events.
The result of this lack of attention one is likely to remember schemaconsistent information and to remember them in a generic way, whether or not
they were actually present.
False Memory
False memories: large memory errors. Memory for an event that never
actually occurred, implanted by experimental manipulation or other means.
False feedback manipulation persuade subjects to falsely remember having a
variety of experiences.
Once these false memories are implanted whether through complex
methods or simple ones it is extremely difficult to tell them apart from true
memories.
Conclusion
Eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it
is not particularly reliable. Now, decades of research argue that this testimony
is often given far more weight that its accuracy justifies.
Recommendations:
Aimed at specific legal procedures:
- When & how witnesses should be interviewed
- How lineups should be constructed and conducted
- Appropriate education (often in the form of expert witness testimony) to be
provide to jury members and others tasked with assessing witness memory