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Elizabeth Loftus

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Introduction

Mark Suffolk Group A For many years eye witness testimony has been a key element of courtroom trials. Whether a person is given a guilty verdict or not can revolve around who the jury believe, and eye witness testimony plays a major part. However many studies have been conducted over the years which suggest a number of ways in which eye witness testimony can be unreliable. Leading researcher Elizabeth Loftus has suggested factors such as, violent crime, leading questions during interviews, and the presence of a weapon during a crime, can all have a marked effect on the reliability of eye witness testimony. Loftus and Palmer (1974) conducted an experiment in an attempt to show how leading questions can affect an eye witness's version of events. The experiment took place in a laboratory with 45 American students used as the sample. The participants were asked to view footage of a car crash. They were later asked to recall events as if they were an eye witness. The students were then asked to fill in a questionnaire, which had the wording of one question changed. Split onto five groups of nine, one group were asked the question "About how fast were the cars going when they hit?", for the other groups the word "hit" was changed to "smashed", "collided" , "contacted", or "bumped". The findings were that the average speed suggested when the word "smashed "was used was 9 mph more than the average estimate of speed than when the word "contacted" was used. ...read more.

Middle

who suggested we make more errors when the suspect is a different race to the witness. They concluded that we are better at being able to recognise our own race. Another explanation for the inaccuracy of recall is that if our memory of an event is sketchy we have a tendency to use our schemas and stereotypes to fill in the gaps. This is known as reconstructive memory, we reconstruct events by combining parts of the event that is real with our schemas which are stored in long term memory. One of the first to investigate the accuracy of memory was psychologist Frederic Bartlett (1932). He asked a subject to read a story entitled 'War of the ghosts' an old legend about an Indian hunter. The person then had to tell the story to another subject who had not heard it before, the second person then told it to another person, this carried on until ten people had heard it. Bartlett found that by the end, whilst a few basic elements of the story remained, many new 'bits' were added as each person along the way in order to make the story more complete added new parts. This additional information came from each person's knowledge from how they see the world. The findings from the all the research shows how problematic dealing with eyewitness testimony can be, for both the police who interview witnesses and for the courtroom where the testimonies of witnesses have a big impact. ...read more.

Conclusion

If it is the victim asked to identify a suspect, they could be in high state of emotional arousal. They could have the stress of coming close to a person who perhaps assaulted them, also there could be anger involved, and they may pick anybody on the basis they want someone prosecuted for what happened to them. Identity parades could be perhaps made more reliable by introducing new methods. One such method could be to introduce the line up sequentially, this may ease some of the pressure involved. Also the officer conducting the parade shouldn't be aware if the main suspect is present, this could stop anybody perhaps being led to one member of the line up. It could also be mentioned to the person who is trying to identify the perpetrator that the suspect may not be in the line up, this would stop the person feeling like they have to pick someone. It is clear from all the research there is a big margin for error in eyewitness testimony. Whilst jurors are still highly influenced by a confident eyewitness, more cases are able to be solved with more scientific methods such as DNA. However all parts of the justice system should be trying to eliminate potential problems with the testimony of an eyewitness. Perhaps cases should not go to court when the main evidence provided is eyewitness testimony. ...read more.

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