"It is clear that eyewitness testimony is entirely unreliable". To what extent does psychology research support this view of eyewitness testimony?

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It is clear that eyewitness testimony is entirely unreliable”. To what extent does psychology research support this view of eyewitness testimony?

The belief that eyewitness testimony maybe unreliable comes from the work of Bartlett who claimed that memory is a reconstructed process and is influenced by schemas, stereotypes and leading questions.

A schema is an ‘organised’ packet of information that enables us to predict what is likely to happen in various situations. The Brewer and Treyins study demonstrates how schemas can produce distorted recall. Participants were presented with an office schema - items consistent with the office such as a desk and chair, and items inconsistent with an office such as a skull and picnic basket. Nearly everyone recalled the desk and chair, but only 8 out of 30 participants recalled the skull and picnic basket. Furthermore, 9 participants recalled books that had not been there.

Stereotypes are a formation of judgement, for example, in terms of a readily available feature such as skin colour or gender. In the Buckhout study participants were presented with pictures, one of which was in a subway where a scruffily dressed white man was holding a razor threatening a well dressed black man. When asked to recall the picture half of the participants recalled the black man as holding the razor, this shows the stereotype – all black men are violent and this therefore shows memory can be affected by stereotypes.

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Leading questions are questions which expect a certain answer. The Loftus and Palmer study demonstrates how using certain words in a question can affect the answer. This was a laboratory experiment with five conditions. Participants were shown a video of a car accident involving a number of cars. They were then asked to describe what had happened as if they were eyewitnesses. The participants were asked a number of questions such as “About how fast were the cars going when they (hit/smashed/collided/ bumped/ contacted – the five conditions) each other?” when the word ‘smashed’ was used the speed estimated ...

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