Identification of Area
Eyewitness testimonies are a very important area within cognitive psychology and relates directly to the human brain and memory. Cognitive psychology refers to the study of an individual’s internal processes, more specifically how they perceive information, how they learn, remember and think. The way that an individual functions cognitively directly impacts the eyewitness statement that they give, as we all perceive and recall information differently. By questioning the validity of eyewitness testimonies, ultimately we are questioning in what way the function of our memory dictates how much, and what aspects of what we see are remembered. Within today’s judicial system there are many aspects involved when convicting a perpetrator that the police have no control over, possibly the most important one is the use of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses can be defined as a person who is, or was present at the time of an event who is able to testify from personal observation, either as a bystander or victim of the event (Morris, 1957). The validity of eyewitness testimony has been questioned for a variety of different reasons, which are all equally important in answering whether testimonies are reliable and can be trusted. Throughout trial one of the strongest and most persuasive pieces of evidence given, which is commonly accepted as trustworthy is the eyewitness testimony (Mudd and Govern, 2004). It is this trust and perceived credibility of eyewitness identifications that poses a major problem within the court system regarding unreliability of the witness resulting in false identifications. When eyewitnesses provide correct identifications, it successfully aids the conviction of the culpable person. Although if an eyewitness has provided a flawed testimony, the damages to the innocent person are irreparable as the perpetrator is left unaccountable. Factors that can taint identifications are cross race identifications, the misinformation effect and the contamination of memory due to post event information. Each factor impacts the acquisition, storage or retrieval of cognitive memory, of which at times we have little control over.
Within research investigating eyewitnesses there is consistent evidence regarding the presence and impact of the cross-race effect, also referred to as own-race bias. The cross race effect refers to people of one race being able to identify others of the same race more clearly than they can identify those who are of a different race (Smith, Stinson & Prosser, 2004). Severe ramifications can arise when this factor is applied to eyewitness testimonies and is a known common cause of misidentification (Wilson, Hugenberg, & Bernstein, 2013). The fallibility of eyewitness memory has recently come to light with the use of DNA; since DNA was first used in post-conviction appeals many people have been found innocent and subsequently exonerated. From those who have been exonerated, 77% of them had been due to false identifications (Lecture, 2013). Of this 77% a large proportion were convicted in trials where cross-race identification was a determining factor (Lecture, 2013). Although there is little known about the cause of this effect, it is proven that when an eyewitness is faced with a suspect who is of a different race to them, accuracy rates are significantly lower than in same-race identifications (Smith et al., 2004). Studies show that from the age of four through to adulthood, individuals reported demonstrating higher confidence and accuracy when recognising faces of their own race compared to those of a different race (Walker & Hewstone, 2008). Walker and Hewstone, (2008), claim that although individuals are better at recognising facial features associated with their own race, they are faster when recognising other-race face classification and it is often the first thing analysed. Despite the lack of a defining cause for the cross-race effect there are some...
References: Cureton, S.R. (2000). Determinants of Black-to-White arrest differentials: A review of the literature(From system in Black & White: Exploring the connections between race, crime & justice), P65-71, Michael W.Markowitz& Delores D.Jones-Brown.
Douglass, A., & Jones, E. E. (2013). Confidence inflation in eyewitnesses: Seeing is not believing. Legal & Criminological Psychology, 18(1), 152-167, doi:10.1111/j.2044- 8333.2011.02031.x
Gabbert, F., Memon, A., & Allan, K
Lecture (2013). Introduction to Forensic Psychology. Melbourne, Australia: Swinburne University of Technology.
Loftus, E.F. (1975). Leading questions and the eyewitness report. Cognitive Psychology,7. 560-572, doi:10.1016/0010-0285(75)90023-7
Paz-Alonso, P. M., Goodman, G. S., & Ibabe, I. (2013). Adult Eyewitness Memory and Compliance: Effects of Post-event Misinformation on Memory for a Negative Event. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 31(5), 541-558, doi:10.1002/bsl.2081
Smith, S. M., Stinson, V., & Prosser, M. A. (2004). Do they all look alike? An exploration of decision-making strategies in cross-race facial identifications. Canadian Journal Of Behavioural Science/, 36(2), 146-154, doi:10.1037/h0087225
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