Outline and evaluate the research into eyewitness testimony.

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Outline and evaluate the research into eyewitness testimony.

There has been a vast amount of interest into eyewitness testimony (EWT). EWT investigate the accuracy of memory following a crime or incident worth interrogating and the types of errors make in such situations.

Sometimes EWT can be unreliable, which can lead to horrific consequences in a court of law.

Rattner (1988) reviewed 205 cases of wrongful arrest (such as the case of Edward Honaker) and found that in 52% of cases, this was due to mistaken EWT.

Baddeley (1997) has reported that 74% of suspects were convicted in 300 cases where EWT was the only evidence against them.

Problems can occur at any point in the memory process, whether it is during acquisition, during storage or during retrieval. A number of different types of research have been pursued to understand the reasoning for mistaken and unreliable EWT, anxiety being one of them.

When considering the reliability of EWT, it is important to bear in mind the type of crime that is being recalled. Some crimes, such as those involving violence, are associates with high levels of anxiety in victims or onlookers. Whether anxiety really does lead to unreliable remembering depends on a number of factors.

Loftus 191979) reported a lab study which demonstrated the huge role that anxiety can play. Participants were exposed to two situations, one, a low key discussion which results in a person emerging from a room with a pen in his hand, and the other, a heated argument resulting in breaking of glass, smashing of chairs and man emerging holding a bloodstained knife. Participants were then given 50 photos and asked to identify the person.

The findings were that witnessed who had seen the man holding the knife emerge accurately identified him, 44% of the time, whereas the participants who saw the man carrying the bloodstained knife only identified him 33%. This finding has come to be known as ‘weapon focus.’ This is where the witnesses concentrate on the weapon rather than the person holding it, to enable them to feel safer if they know where the weapon is. However, this study can be criticised. This study is a laboratory study (lab). The variables in a lab study can be manipulated so therefore this leaves a question of bias. The study could also be accused of lacking validity, as a different picture emerges from field studies in another EWT research study. Also, this experiment raises ethical issues about the welfare of the participants who were deceived, and who many have been upset by the knife with blood on. In the same area of EWT,

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Yuille and Cutshall provided evidence for the accuracy of testimony in a real life event. They interviewed witnesses to a real life shooting. Some witnesses has seen the incident close, while some from further away. The findings from this study were that those who were closer gave a more accurate account, and those who were closest provided more detail. Also, misleading questions had no effect on accuracy and those who were distressed at the time proved most accurate 5 months later.

The problems with this study though, are that the witnesses weren’t participants. They had actually seen the shooting ...

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