As Will Rogers once said, “You never know how much a man can’t remember until he is called as a witness.” Human memory serves many purposes in people’s past, present, and future. Memory and the images contained in it help people to conduct the daily routines of life that are required for basic survival. It also aids in times of great sorrow when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Without memory, people would not be able to write, speak, navigate, or have personal relationships. (Foster) However, memory plays a crucial role in the legal system, and the apprehension and possible conviction of suspects who have committed unthinkable crimes. Such emotional memories are usually vivid and often very precise. Even still, it is certain that at least some emotional memories do contain errors, and some may be wrong all together. The accuracy of emotional memories must be tested and not assumed accurate. At the center of this debate over emotional memories is “flashbulb memories.” Flashbulb recollections tend to be extraordinarily vivid and detailed, and are recalled with much confidence and accuracy. However, it can also be wrong. Therefore, memory vividness and confidence during eyewitness testimony cannot be associated with accuracy. (Reisberg)
Individuals who become a part of the legal system are usually asked to recall highly emotional and often negative information. Witnesses to murders and other violent crimes, and victims of assaults are asked to provide details of the crime to police officers, lawyers, and other members of the legal system. Witnesses and victims may be under great emotional distress when attempting to recall these details. Although many studies support that great duress improves certain areas of memory recall, there are just as many that suggest that peripheral details are sacrificed by central details. For instance, if a weapon is used during a crime, the victim will focus more on the weapon than the perpetrator. Therefore, the
Cited: Cohen, Gillian East Sussex Psychology Press, 1996 3 Woll, Stanley. Mahwah, N.J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2002.