Eyewitness Testimony as a Source of Reliable Evidence

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Eyewitness Testimony as a source of reliable evidence

In relation to cognitive psychology, is eyewitness testimony reliable in today’s judicial system?

Word Count: 3944

ABSTRACT

Is eyewitness testimony a reliable source of evidence in today’s judicial system? Many jurors tend to pay close attention to eyewitness testimony assuming that what they hear is exactly as it happened. They ignore the psychology behind remembering an event. Our brain is a complex structure and it is difficult to absorb every stimulus in our surrounding. We pay great attention to some aspects of a situation while completely ignoring others. It is advisable for expert psychologists to be present during a court case that involves eyewitness testimony, as they are more aware of its flaws.

We store information in schemas and when we gain new knowledge it is altered in order to fit these schemas. Leading psychologists such as Elizabeth Loftus, Neil Bartlett and Yullie & Cutshall have carried out research in order to demonstrate how our memory can be altered by psychological factors such as leading questions, reconstructive memory and weapon focus. This research paper contains a vast number of experiments and studies done in order to illustrate the unreliability of our memory and whether courts should rely on eyewitness testimony as a prime source. Age and gender also serve as factors that influence eyewitness testimony.

Through research and analysis, it is concluded in this paper that eyewitness testimony should not be given superiority over other actual evidence presented, as our memory is the least reliable source. It is worthwhile to carry out further investigation about the case if eyewitness testimony is the only evidence available, as false testimonies could lead to an innocent individual being charged guilty.

Word Count: 260

CONTENTS

Abstract ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Page 2

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Page 4

Discussion………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Page 7

Misleading Questions………………………………………………………………………………………………… Page 7

Anxiety and Stress…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Page 9

Weapon Focus…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Page 11

Reconstructive Memory……………………………………………………………………………………………. Page 11

Confident Testimony…………………………………………………………………………………………………. Page 14

Age……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….…… Page 15

Gender………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Page 16

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Page 17

References ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….... Page 19

INTRODUCTION

The reliability of eyewitness testimony has often been questioned in cases of crime and violence but yet the judicial system seems to ignore its flaws. Numerous psychologists have carried out experiments and studies regarding this issue. Eyewitness testimony has a large psychological background that judges, lawyers and the jury seem to ignore. Our ability to remember certain situations and events may be distorted according to the time and place that the event occurred or the time and place that the eyewitness testimony is given. Cognitive psychologists have carried out profound research about this phenomenon and have found that eyewitness testimony can be related to human schemas, reconstructive memory and our ability to remember.

The knowledge we have gained from the world is stored in our brain as an organized package of information called a schema. The ‘schema theory’ states that the knowledge we have already gained through our life has a major influence on what we remember. According to Cohen (1986) as cited in Gross (64), the human mind uses past experiences in order to deal with new experiences. Our behavior is guided by the set of schemas that we have in our brain. The new experiences that we face are not just ‘replicated’ into our memory but instead are reconstructed in...
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