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To what extent has psychological research shown eyewitness testimony to be unreliable?

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Introduction

To what extent has psychological research shown eyewitness testimony to be unreliable? Eyewitness testimony is the evidence that is provided by individuals whom have witnessed an event, crime or happening. EWT relies solely on recall from memory and normally includes accounts of events and descriptions of persons involved. Although EWT is used largely by the police on identifying suspects of a crime, giving great cause for concern over policing methods in our society. It has been proven by psychologists not to be entirely reliable. It has also been shown that it is not the witness themselves that are unreliable but more so the methods used by professionals to obtain testimonial statements. The main issue concerned with the unreliability of EWT lies in the effect of language. A school of thought is provoked by the studies of Elizabeth Loftus. She has carried out various experiments concerned with leading questions and language. ...read more.

Middle

Their study showed that eyewitness memory is very fragile and can easily be distorted by events that happen after the incident (post-event information), and the change of only one word in a question can have a huge effect on the participants memory. This has great implications for the questioning in police interviews as it can lead to confabulated evidence Although this study suggests that EWT is unreliable the criticisms it received do not necessarily suggest this. The fact that this was an artificial experiment in which a video was used suggests it is not as emotionally arousing as witnessing an event first hand. This potentially effects recall which is proven in later study by Yuille and Cutshall (1986) in which participants who thought they had witness a real robbery gave a more accurate description of the robbers. A further area to consider is the issue of reconstructive memory. ...read more.

Conclusion

Bartlett found that the recalled stories were far shorter than the original. In some parts the story had been changed to match that of the participant's cultural perspectives. The recalled versions eventually became fixed in the participant's minds. This study gives more evidence that EWT is unreliable as the essential meaning of a story/event is remembered, but any gaps are filled in with information to make the story easier to remember, the story is effectively skewed to fit the individual's schema. Although the results show that the story/event was remembered it also shows that small gaps were not remembered. It is these small gaps that could complete the jigsaw to a crime proving EWT is unreliable. It was argued that if participants were told from the start that they had to remember the story accurately from the beginning then total recall would occur, this was proved in a further study. However, in everyday situations we witness many events and we do not pay full attention therefore it is not a valid point to suggest this argument. ...read more.

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