Outline and evaluate research into the effect of misleading information on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony

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Outline and evaluate research into the effect of misleading information on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony (12 marks)

Misleading questions are when questions are used to give a false memory to a person giving an eyewitness testimony, for example “was the knife used?” rather than “was a knife used?”. The use of the word “the” assumes there was a knife present, where there may not have been.  This means the participant may subconsciously create a memory around the idea of a knife being there, meaning they may not even realize they’re doing it. One study to investigate misleading questions is the Loftus and Palmer (1974) study, the reconstruction of automobile destruction, which aimed to test their hypothesis that language used in eyewitness testimony can alter memory. They aimed to test whether leading questions can distort memories. In this study, 45 American students were asked to estimate the speed of a motor vehicle in a video upon crashing, in the form of a questionnaire. This was a lab experiment where there were 5 groups of 9, and each was asked the question “How fast was the car travelling when the cars (Hit, smashed, collided, bumped, contacted) with eachother” with each of the groups having a different verb in the question, but not knowing about it. Loftus and Palmer found that the verb used affected the outcome of the speed that the participants predicted, where smashed came out as the one with the car travelling fastest, and contacted slowest., concluding that their hypothesis was correct, and leading questions do impact and distort memories when giving eyewitness testimony. One piece of supporting research is the broken headlight study, where participants were shown a clip of a car accident. Some were asked "Did you see a broken headlight?" and others were asked "Did you see the broken headlight?"  There was no broken headlight in the film clip. Out of participants asked if they saw the headlight, 17% said they had seen it in comparison to those asked if seen a headlight, where 7%^ said they had seen it. They concluded The use of leading questions in an interview can lead to the creation of false memories by the eyewitness - therefore eyewitness testimony is subject to inaccuracy and its reliability can be questioned. Despite this, Yuille and Cutshall (1986) founds that in circumstances of high or low stress/anxiety, efficiency of memory is much worse. The optimum level is in the middle of the two, which is where the Loftus and Palmer study may have taken place.

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Post event information is where misleading information is presented after a person witnesses an event that can change how that person describes that event later and can also alter their memory concerning the event. A study which shows this is the 1975 Loftus and Palmer barn and stop sign study which aimed to investigate the idea of post event information. In this study, participants watched a video where no barn was displayed. After the video was played, a sample were asked did you see the barn? Some participants reported seeing a barn, despite the fact no barn was in the ...

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