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The purpose of this essay is to discuss whether eye-witness testimony draws upon the same kinds of memory representations as are used for recalling other scenes or events?

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Introduction

The purpose of this essay is to discuss whether eye-witness testimony draws upon the same kinds of memory representations as are used for recalling other scenes or events? In addressing the relevant points it will be necessary to firstly look at what is meant by "Eye Witness Testimony" and understand the different issues such as events witnessed versus expectations. An understanding of representations is then necessary in order to link the two components. It is also necessary to understand schemas and their contribution to memory, plus the different levels of processing involved in memory and issues such as repression which may also have a bearing. Different studies of Eye-witness testimony, memory and schemas will help broaden the discussion and enable a summary to be made which addresses the question as to whether eye-witness testimony draws upon the same kinds of memory representations as are used for recalling other scenes or events? Our legal system assumes, until proven otherwise, that an eye-witnesses memory of events such as an accident, will not be distorted. But any such report of events can be influenced significantly by the manner in which questioning takes place. Talented Barristers for example ask leading questions suggesting a particular version of events. ...read more.

Middle

Theories of memory generally consider both the structure of the memory system and the processes operating within that structure. Craik & Lockhart (1972) investigated levels of processing together with rehearsal and looked at their influence on memory. Their findings showed that deeper and more semantic analysis of learning material improved long term memory retrieval. Unfortunately though, witnessing events does not provide this luxury, as an event is very soon passed and we are only afforded a quick snapshot in time. Eye-witness studies have highlighted that upto 5% of witnesses over-estimate the duration of events. And 27% of witnesses are affected by how questions are worded. Also, confirmation bias comes into being, where an observer's expectations have an influence on memory recall. Loftus & Burns (1982) investigated memory impairing effects where violence caused pre-violence memory to be impaired. The dangers or shock during witnessing cannot be ignored. Also, when witnessing an event first hand, a witness will not necessarily be in full attendance and perhaps not initially aware that a crime has taken place. Studies in areas such as verbal versus visual, face recognition, confidence, bias, weapons and schema have all helped highlight the influencing characteristics. ...read more.

Conclusion

According to the schema-plus-tag model (Graesser & Nakamura (1982)), the memory representation for a specific event includes both the general schema and distinctive markers or labels which help to 'flag' highlights or unexpected aspects of the event. This could certainly be true for eye-witness testimony. Schank (1981) also proposed Memory Organisation Packets (MOP's) which makes provision for storing memories for specific episodes in addition to the general schemas. This also helps account for everyday memory representations. Together such proposals help to maximise the number of possible retrieval routes. Our schema enables us to associate incoming information with existing information. When people remember a particular scene they are influenced by the appropriate schema for such a scene. Generally people remember things that fit the schema and forget things which do not fit. Given that most of our experiences involve familiar objects and events, remembering is partly a matter of updating previously established memories. For example new information regarding one of our friends or colleagues results in an update of our previously stored knowledge. Eye-witness testimony has to fit within existing framework of our experiences and therefore does draw upon the same kinds of memory representations as are used for recalling other scenes or events, although different characteristics and features of memory come into being as previously highlighted and described above. ...read more.

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