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

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

One area of importance into memory research is Eyewitness Testimony which can have important applications to everyday life. Understanding our memory of events that occurred when a crime or incident has happened, details of who and what happened surrounding the crime or event relies on eyewitnesses and their recollection of the crime' or incident. A legal term) Eyewitness Testimony is crucial as it plays an important role in evidence used in criminal investigations and trials. However research into eyewitness testimony has shown that Eyewitness Testimony is not always accurate.

One of the leading researchers in the field of Eye Witness Testimony (EWT) is Elizabeth Loftus who along with her colleagues carried out extensive research in EWT. In 1974 Loftus & Palmer conducted an experiment to investigate the accuracy of memory after witnessing a car accident, particularly to see how information provided to a witness by way of leading questions after the accident would influence their recollection of the accident.

In the first experiment carried out under laboratory conditions, 45 participants divided into 5 groups were shown 7 clips of events  leading up to a car accident, after each clip they were asked to answer some questions but the crucial question was "About how fast were the cars going when they ...... into each other? There were 5 conditions in the experiment, each being the independent variable (verb) used to fill the blank in the question they were smashed, collided, bumped, hit and contact with the dependent variable being the speeds estimated by the participants.

The results showed that the verb used in the question influenced the participants speed estimates, with smashed getting a speed of 40.8mph, collided 39.3mph, bumped 38.1mph, hit 34mph and contacted 31.8mph.

A Second Experiment was carried out whereby 150 student participants divided into 3 groups of 50 viewed a short (one minute) film which contained a 4 second scene of a multiple car accident and were then questioned about it. There were three conditions and the independent variable (verb used) was manipulated by the wording of the question. The first group was asked 'how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?' The second group was asked 'How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other? 'The third group was not asked about the speed of the vehicles.

One week later, the participants returned and, without viewing the film, again they were asked questions about the accident. The critical question was 'did you see any broken glass?’ which was part of a longer series of questions and was placed in a random position on each participants question paper. There was in fact no broken glass in the film. 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. Firstly, they argued that the results could be due to a distortion in the memory of the participant, the memory of how fast the cars were travelling could have been distorted / by the verb which had been used to characterize the intensity of the crash. Secondly, they argued that the results could be due to response-bias factors, in which case the participant is not sure of the exact speed and therefore adjusts his or her estimate to fit in with the expectations of the questioner (this is also an example of a demand characteristic). To account for the results of the second experiment, Loftus and Palmer developed the following explanation called the Reconstructive hypothesis they Z argue that two kinds of information go into a person's memory of an event. The first is the information obtained from perceiving an event (e.g. 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. For example in Loftus and Palmer's 2nd experiment, the participants first formed some memory of the film they had witnessed. The experimenter then, while asking, "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?" supplied a piece of external information, namely, that the cars did indeed smash into each other. When these two pieces of information were integrated, the participant has a memory of an accident that was more severe than it actually was. Since broken glass relates to a bigger accident, the participant is more likely to think that broken glass was present. Looking at both experiments we see that they were controlled in a laboratory and as such the eye witnesses were prepared and had to pay attention to the footage, this is not the case in real life situations and was a criticism levelled at Loftus.

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As with any research there are both strengths and weaknesses, looking at the strengths we see both parts of Loftus and Palmer (1974) were laboratory experiments with strong scientific controls, as all the participants watched the same film and were asked identical questions except for the verb change, which meant the study was replicable and could be repeated to test for reliability. The research supported the idea that memory can be easily distorted and would have implications for eyewitness testimony in court. The use of estimates of speed in both experiments and the yes/no question of the second experiment ...

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