• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

To what extent does psychological research support the accuracy of eye witness testimony?

Extracts from this document...


To what extent does psychological research support the accuracy of eye witness testimony? (18 marks) Eye Witness Testimony is an area of research into a witness' recollection of an event, (crime, act of violence, car crash), and the accuracy of their memory. It can prove accurate and invaluable to police investigations but it is also fallible. This research studies what about the testimony is reliable, why errors are made and how to make them more reliable. * Rattner reviewed 205 cases of "wrongful arrest" and found that in 52 % of cases, incorrect EWT had been to blame. * This could be due to Bartlett's theory of Reconstructive Memory. This is the idea that witnesses take original information (e.g. a folk story, as Bartlett studied in 1932), and use "effort after meaning" with their existing ideas, experience and cultural teachings (schemas). * Loftus said that certain situations improve the validity of EWT, which include proximity to the incident, racial similarities and the sobriety and emotional state of the witness. There are a lot of studies finding errors in EWT - Elizabeth Loftus, in 1979, found that Weapon Focus in a hostile situation detracts the witness from the description of the accused. ...read more.


Loftus and Palmer researched this effect by showing participants a video of a car crash and asking them to estimate to speed of the car. They were divided into groups and each asked a slight variation of the same question: * How fast were the cars going when they Contacted each other? * How fast were the cars going when they Hit each other? * How fast were the cars going when the Smashed each other? It was found that this word affected the speed estimation. There was roughly 10mph difference between the contacting cars and the smashing cars. One week later, those in the "smashed" group consistently reconstructed their memories to include broken glass. However, there is very low ecological validity in this experiment, it has confounded variables such as age and gender, and the stress levels of the participants. It also has the possibility of having demand characteristics due to the groups, people will not want to be abnormal and not go along with the group's answer (Levels of conformity). Conformity can influence EWT as people want to give answers that are "acceptable" to their peers, known as Normative influence, or when unsure, a participant can look to other members of the group for guidance and assurance, (informational influence). ...read more.


Foster told one group that it was a real robbery and that their choice would affect the trial, the other group assumed it was a simulation. The group who felt the consequences of their actions made fewer mistakes. This creates doubt for lab experiments into EWT due to their lack of ecological validity. Christianson and Hubinette researched "real-life" witnesses. Victims, (rather than onlookers) could recall details very accurately and still had good recall after 15 months. This evidence helps to prove Loftus' theory that proximity and having powerful emotions can have a very positive effect on EWT. In conclusion, although there is a large quantity of research into the fallibility of eyewitness testimonies, all of which viable and not without merit, however the artificiality of the majority of the experiments make it hard to prove them true. Many confounding factors may have an impact on a testimony in "real-life" such as stress, panic, fear, eye sight, visibility due to smoke/rain/distance from the incident, intoxication, novelty factor, time lapse between event and testimony, social desirability, the desire to please the interrogator, interference, and how much responsibility comes with giving the testimony. The Flashbulb Memory model also has influence here and is apparent in Christianson and Hubinette's research, as most witnesses to violence or crime can remember it as though taking a "photograph" and can remember the smells and colours for years. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Cognitive Psychology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Cognitive Psychology essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Measurements of Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimonies

    4 star(s)

    than 'collided', 'bumped', 'hit' and 'contacted' (31.8) respectively. In a second experiment each subject was shown a short film that showed a multiple car accident. Loftus and Palmer asked 50 subjects, "How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?", and 50 subjects were asked the same question with the word 'smashed' substituted instead of 'hit'.

  2. Describe the application of behaviorist perspectives in health and social care. Describe the application ...

    Autonomy will be when the child is experiencing thing without being controlled such as forced to do it or rushed. They would be supported and given the feeling that they are competent. On the other hand shame and doubt will come from a child being controlled witch could lead them to question there self ability.

  1. In this assignment the Author intends to discuss, evaluate and research the reliability and ...

    even in the more extreme psychotic states it's not possible to separate or divorce such a debilitating illness from the individual. (Coordination Group Publications 2009; Richard Gross 2010). Davison et al believe that the DSM diagnostic categories possess some construct validity, some more than others; however, according to Mackay (1975):

  2. How Minority views afects Majority - Conformity

    On the other hand there was only 14% minority participants who coformed when shown previous answers. In conclusion, the experimenter found out that conformity was shown in the investigation. This is because when participants were shown previous answers, their 71% of the estimates were very close to the group estimate.

  1. "Eyewitness testimony differs from many other aspects of memory in that accuracy is of ...

    Bartlett (1932) carried out research on reconstructive memory. He claimed that in order to make sense of an event we go through a process called " effort after meaning." Instead of storing an exact replica of the event, we combine it with elements of existing knowledge and experience to form a reconstructive memory.

  2. 'It is clear from psychological research into memory and eye-witness testimony that accounts of ...

    However there are theories that state EWT is reliable. A flash bulb memory is a very accurate vivid and detailed memory of an event, which will have had a great impact, may have been dramatic or surprising. Brown and Kulik (1977) suggest that there is a special neural mechanism that is triggered by an important even and makes a

  1. Memory's Impact

    Inferential Statistics From the graph it is evident that after being given an interference task, recall for emotional words was higher than recall for neutral words. This does not support the experimental hypothesis. To decide whether the results were significant an inferential statistical test was used.

  2. Describe and Evaluate Research by E.Loftus into Eye Witness Testimony, the implications of the ...

    The results show that the verb used in the original question influenced whether the participants had thought they seen broken glass, those participants that heard the word smashed were more than twice as likely to recall seeing broken glass. Loftus and Palmer gave two explanations for the findings of their first experiment.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work