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

Eye witness testimony is so unreliable that it should never be used in convicting criminals. Discuss.

Extracts from this document...


Psychology Assignment 1 "Eye witness testimony is so unreliable that it should never be used in convicting criminals" Eye witness testimony is a legal term. It refers to an account given by people of an event they have witnessed. Memory is very important for eye witness testimony. An accurate memory for an event can help lead to the conviction of a guilty person or the release of an innocent person wrongly convicted. Inaccurate memory can lead to the conviction of an innocent person or a failure to convict a guilty person, as the jury almost always believe the accounts of eye witness testimony; this was shown in the Devlin report where it is stated that eye witness testimony should never result in a conviction in an English court in the absence of other corroborating evidence. Research points show that eye witness testimony is highly inaccurate. Loftus and Palmer conducted extensive research over 30 years and found that eye witness testimony is vulnerable to many different types of influence. Research into eye witness testimony demonstrates that memories are quite fragile and subject to distortion by post-event information. Studies also indicate that misinformation can introduce serious errors into eyewitnesses' recall of the event. Bartlett challenged the idea of memory as a passive process, and suggested that memory is an active process rather than a "tape-recording" of an experience. According to Bartlett, we arrange our memories in a way that fits in with our earlier experience, or schemata. ...read more.


They may appear nervous and stressed and if their anxiety is communicated via non-verbal indicators, witnesses may base their selection on this information. The resemblance of the foils to the suspect is crucial, but there is little proof of how this is regulated, and during particularly controversial investigations the pressure will be on to secure an identification as quickly as possible. If the suspect has an unusual appearance it will be even more difficult to find physically similar foils. Legal challenges are often made on the grounds that identification parades were not conducted fairly. An example is the Jennifer Thompson case. Jennifer was a college student back in 1984. One night an intruder burst into her flat and held a knife against her throat. As he raped her Jennifer watchfully memorised his appearance, studying every detail of his face, determined that if she lived her aggressor would be caught and imprisoned. Later that day she worked with police officers in drawing up a sketch, looking through hundreds of images of facial features to ensure she got it right. It was just a few days later when she identified Ronald Cotton as the r****t. She was absolutely certain and Jennifer Thompson picked him out again in a police identity parade. On the strengths of Jennifer's eyewitness testimony Ronald was imprisoned - she declared it to be the happiest day of her life. Indeed she was so sure of his guilt that she wanted him electrocuted, desiring to flip the switch herself. ...read more.


Racial prejudice can very easily affect the way the world is viewed, as was demonstrated by Duncan (1976). Chance and Goldstein (1996) have shown that identifying faces from a different ethnic group is more difficult than identifying faces from one's individual group, because of inappropriate and unfamiliar encoding strategies. The area of cross-race identification thus produces a particularly challenging issue in evaluating eyewitness testimony. Duncan (1976) was concerned in the effect of stereotypes on perception. White participants were asked to view a video of a disagreement between two people which resulted in one pushing the other. In fact four versions of the video were shown to different groups: Tape 1 (White assailant/white victim) Tape 2 (White assailant/black victim) Tape 3 (Black assailant/white victim) Tape 4 (Black assailant/black victim) Participants were asked whether the behaviour of the person who pushed the other could best be described as 'playing around' or as 'violent behaviour'. When the perpetrator was black, 70% of participants described his actions as violent, while only 13% of participants chose this descriptor when the perpetrator was white. (Lawton, 2011. p 28.). Research seems to reveal that eyewitness testimony, while occasionally believable, is not always as reliable as the police and jurors believe. Witnesses are vulnerable to influences at a number of stages throughout their observation and recall of an event, and are also vulnerable to inaccurate post event information. In view of this it seems clear that eyewitness testimony should never be allowed as the sole evidence supporting a conviction, Psychologists can greatly assist the police in developing interview techniques which can improve the extent and the accuracy of witnesses' recall. ...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. Peer reviewed

    To what extent does research support the view that eyewitness testimony is unreliable?

    3 star(s)

    Loftus et al (1978) showed a film of a hold-up and then tested memory for details. The results showed that a high-arousal version of a young boy being shot and falling to the floor clutching his bleeding face, led to poorer recall than a low-arousal version.

  2. Free essay

    Correlation between age and sleep

    2.2. Apparatus Instruction for psychology survey in form of briefing letter- Appendix 1 Sleep diary - Appendix 2 Agreement for participation in psychology study - Appendix 3 Debriefing of the experiment in form of letter- Appendix 4 2. 3. Procedure To conduct my experiment I used procedure as follow: 1.

  1. Section B Essay: Eye Witness Testimony

    The different objects were , nothing (control), scissors (high threat, low unusualness), a handgun (high threat, high unusualness), a raw chicken (low threat, high unusualness) and a wallet (low threat, low unusualness). After tem minutes, the participants filled out a questionnaire, the firs part was about the receptionist and the second was about the man.

  2. Report on Psychological Research into Eyewitness Testimony

    He was able to recall specific pieces of information in great detail, fully believing that the situation had actually occurred, "I was with you guys for a second and I think I went over to look at the toy store, the Kay Bee toy and uh, we got lost, and

  1. The Effects of leading questions on Eyewitness Testimony

    The data was collected by a single female A level Psychology student researcher. Apparatus * Standardised Instructions (devised by researcher) See Appendix ii * Remote control * 20 Sheets of Paper * 20 Pens * 20 Chairs * A hat (or something else that can be used to draw the ballot)

  2. A counselling Interview

    (Egan, 1998) Upon reflection this was not the best place to start as the atmosphere initially had lost the rapport forged by unconditional positive regard and effective listening, which led to us back tracking over previously covered points in order to effectively continue.

  1. Evaluate 3 Approaches to treating Mental Disorders: Psychodynamic, Biological and Behavioural Approach.

    ECT consists of passing an electrical current through the brain to produce an epileptic fit ? hence the name, electro-convulsive. The idea developed from the observation that, in the days before there was any kind of effective medication, some people with depression or schizophrenia, and who also had epilepsy, seemed to feel better after having a fit.

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

    witnessing a video of a car accident), and the second is the other information supplied to us after the event (e.g. the question containing hit or smashed). Over time, the information from these two sources may be integrated in such a way that we are unable to tell from which source some specific detail is recalled.

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