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"It is clear that eyewitness testimony is entirely unreliable". To what extent does psychology research support this view of eyewitness testimony?

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Introduction

"It is clear that eyewitness testimony is entirely unreliable". To what extent does psychology research support this view of eyewitness testimony? The belief that eyewitness testimony maybe unreliable comes from the work of Bartlett who claimed that memory is a reconstructed process and is influenced by schemas, stereotypes and leading questions. A schema is an 'organised' packet of information that enables us to predict what is likely to happen in various situations. The Brewer and Treyins study demonstrates how schemas can produce distorted recall. Participants were presented with an office schema - items consistent with the office such as a desk and chair, and items inconsistent with an office such as a skull and picnic basket. Nearly everyone recalled the desk and chair, but only 8 out of 30 participants recalled the skull and picnic basket. Furthermore, 9 participants recalled books that had not been there. Stereotypes are a formation of judgement, for example, in terms of a readily available feature such as skin colour or gender. ...read more.

Middle

Furthermore, a week later the participants were asked "Did you see any broken glass?" 32% of participants who heard 'smashed' said that they had and only 14% of participants who heard 'hit' said they had. In fact there was no broken glass in the video. Exposure time is the length of time witnesses are exposed to an event. In a study by Loftus participants were shown a 30 second video of a stimulated bank robbery, they were then asked how long the robbery lasted. The results showed participants tend to overestimate the length of the robbery. The average estimated time was 2 1/2 minuets. Another factor that can affect eyewitness testimony is weapon focus - when a witness is distracted from other characteristics of the situation, such as identification of the robber, by the presence of a gun. In a study by Loftus participants were shown a video which had two versions. In one version a man pointed a gun at a cashier in a restaurant and she gave him money. ...read more.

Conclusion

However due to the research being laboratory experiments there is high control over the confounding variables. A study that has ecological or external validity is a study by Yuille and Cutshall. In this study participants who had witnessed a genuine armed robbery were asked to recall the events of the robbery four or five months later. This study is naturalistic due to the participants actually being there when the robbery took place. Recall in this study was not susceptible to misleading questions and there were few, if any, facts recalled by the participants that had been reconstructed. This shows that eyewitness testimony of events is not necessarily as inaccurate as laboratory experiments would suggest. In general Yuille and Cutshall say eyewitness testimony is reliable, Loftus say's eyewitness testimony is unreliable but both agree that there is weapons affect The results from laboratory experiments suggest eyewitness testimony is unreliable. However one naturalistic experiment in general shows eyewitness testimony to be reliable. Both methods agreed that there is a weapons affect and that to give a definite answer to the question set, more naturalistic experiments need to be performed. ...read more.

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