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To what extent had psychological research shown Eye Witness Testimony to be reliable and accurate?

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Introduction

To what extent had psychological research shown Eye Witness Testimony to be reliable and accurate? There are many cases that both help and hinder the reliability and accuracy of EWT (Eye Witness Testimony). One experiment conducted by Loftus and Palmer showed strong results of unreliability and inaccuracy. They gathered a group of American students and showed them a video of a car accident. They then asked them several questions including "At what speed do you think the cars were going when they (hit/smashed/collided/bumped/contacted) each other?" Only one verb was used per participant. Loftus found that the estimated speed changed depending on the verb they used. The verb affected part of the participants' memory of the incident. This is strong evidence to show that EWT is highly unreliable as it can be affected by leading questions such as that of Loftus and Palmer's. But this theory can be criticised by the idea of demand characteristics. ...read more.

Middle

The same thing could apply to EWT. Eyewitnesses could change their account of a crime without even realising just because it makes it more familiar to their own existing schema, therefore making their testimony highly unreliable. This theory has highly ecological validity because schemas play a major role in everyday life. However, there is a study that suggests EWT might be highly reliable and accurate. Conway et al. conducted a study on Flashbulb memories. He believed that a significant event having distinctive meaning and emotional impact would be highly memorable, creating a flashbulb memory. He used Margaret Thatcher's resignation as an example and people's memory of the event were assessed. Conway found that 86% still had vivid, detailed memory of the event, thus creating a flashbulb memory. This shows that if the event is emotionally important enough, then EWT can be considered very reliable and accurate. It suggests that flashbulb memories are more enduring and so less subject to forgetting. ...read more.

Conclusion

This may include witnessing a crime. If a person was extremely traumatised by seeing a violent act, they may repress certain details, calling into question the accuracy and reliability of their testimony. However, this theory is hard to evaluate because they are extremely hard to retrieve and creating them in an experimental condition would be highly unethical. But there is one study by Williams that took this into consideration by taking existing cases and analysing the victims of violent crimes. He found that 38% had no conscious memory of the event at all. This supports the idea that repression may cause EWT to be unreliable and inaccurate. There are few studies to suggest that EWT can be found as accurate and reliable. The majority of research seems to suggest that they are in fact inaccurate and unreliable. This is due to things like repression, which causes memory loss due to traumatic incidents. It is also due to witnesses rationalizing the events that they see and making it more familiar to their own schema. Overall, EWT cannot be depended on as a reliable piece of evidence. Sarah Feehan ...read more.

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