Eye Witness Testimony (Psychology)

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  • Topic: Witness, Eyewitness identification, Memory
  • Pages : 6 (2288 words )
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  • Published : March 12, 2012
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Eye Witness Testimony

“Eyewitness testimony is so unreliable that it should never be used in convicting criminals”. Eyewitness testimony is a legal term. It refers to; an account given by person(s) of an event they’ve witnessed. Eyewitness testimony is admissible in a court of law to assist in the conviction of individuals. In 1976, the Devlin report examined over 2000 identity parades in the U.K. Of the 2000 parades, 45% resulted in a suspect being identified and out of these, 82% were eventually convicted of a crime. In over 300 cases, the eyewitness testimony was the sole “evidence” used in conviction. 74% of these 300 cases resulted in criminal convictions. The significance of eyewitness testimony was highlighted in this report and resulted in much more research being undertaken. Cohen describes “erroneous eyewitness testimony” as being the “leading cause of wrongful conviction”. The multi store /Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model was first recognised in 1968 by Atkinson and Shiffrin. The model attempts to identify the process that a stimulus must go through to become a retrievable memory. After being criticised for its supposed simplicity, Baddeley and Hitch (1974) developed the working memory model. Both of these models propose that memory is a complex phenomenon that must go through numerous stages to become an accurately recalled memory. It is this process that offers explanation into the complexity of memory and the many areas that may result in memory confabulation. The Psychology of Rumour study by Allport & postman’s (examined latter) also alludes to memory being more complex than previously thought and strengthens the theory that memory is a process as opposed to a simplistic film. Sir Frederic Bartlett, (1932) introduced the theory of “Reconstructive memory” & “schemas” to Psychology. Schemas where defined by Mike Cardwell as; “packages of information” or “unconscious mental structures”. These mental structures are acquired through our experiences, or as a result of our expectations and cultural norms. Bartlett proposed that people use schemas constantly to complete tasks and to assist in making sense of our surroundings. The theory of schemas also suggests that there are gaps in a person’s memory that are filled with confabulated information when reconstructed. Sir Bartlett (1973) devised an experiment to investigate the effects of schemas on people’s memories. Twenty participants read a story called; “The War of the Ghosts”. The story was culturally different western literature, and was difficult for them to comprehend. After some time, the participants were asked to repeatedly recall the story in as much detail as possible. After recalling the same story six times, once even a year later, participants accidentally shortened the story from 330 words to an average of 180. Participants also altered parts of it to better suit their westernized culture. A conclusion of this experiment is that Memory recall is influenced by our schemas of cultural background and pre-existing knowledge. The experiment has been criticised for a lack of objectivity, being lax on variable control and casual conditions. However, the experimenter’s findings were also strengthened by Cromberg et al whom in 1996 interviewed people one year after plane crash. Of the 193 questioned, 55% falsely said that they had seen the plane hit the building and 59% inaccurately reported that a fire had started immediately on impact. Allport and Postman (1947) conducted a study titled: “Psychology of Rumour” with participants who were all white. They were shown a picture of an argument between a black man and a white man on a train. The white man is holding a razor and threatening the black man aggressively. The...
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