Picking Cotton

Topics: Eyewitness identification, Witness, Psychology Pages: 5 (1915 words) Published: December 5, 2012
Picking Cotton
Details in our lives become less and less important every single day, but what happens when we are to encounter a traumatic experience such as a kidnapping, murder, fight or rape. Our minds go blank, our hearts start pumping blood to every vital organ, and we prepare our selves for the flight or fight. In the case of Jennifer Thompson, she prepared for the fight and was determined not to be murdered by her rapist. As she cleared her mind, Jennifer tried to memorize every facial feature or distinct markings on her rapist. She wanted to make sure she encoded everything she was seeing and hearing from her assailant, but what happens when other factors alter your memories. Things such as unconscious transference, weapon focus, cross race bias or how the eye witness was questioned can play a big factor on how memories are recalled from the eye witness. These factors played a big role in Ronald Cotton’s sentencing and cost him 11 agonizing years in prison. Many believe that once we encode something in our minds it is there for ever and there is nothing that can alter or change our memory of the event, but we are wrong. Like in the case of Jennifer Thompson, she was so positive that Ronald Cotton was her assailant, she had identified him in a photo line up after describing him to a Forensic Sketch artist, and again identified him in a line up. During these two occasions, the officer’s in the case gave Jennifer assured her that she was doing great. This gave Jennifer more reassurance and confidence that she had chosen the right man, but she had not. Previous studies on post identification feedback show that “witnesses who received confirming feedback (versus no feedback) as having paid more attention, having had a better view, being better able to identify strangers, and being more confident at the time of the identification.” (Douglass et. al., 2010, p. 287). Thus Jennifer’s second and third time around identifying Ronald Cotton as her rapist was skewed by the detectives feedback even though the second victim in the case was not able to identify Ronald Cotton as her rapist. The detectives believed they had the man who was allegedly responsible for the rapes in the town and unknowingly contributing to the incarceration of an innocent man. Additionally, previous studies suggest that “accurate witnesses become vulnerable to confirming feedback effects when queried about their certainty and other reports after a 1-week delay” (Quinlivan et. al., 2012, p. 212). Jennifer Thompson’s line up was exactly 11 days after her rape and could have had unconscious transference and having the confirming feedback in the photo identification help her have the confidence she needed to get the assailant in the line up. Jennifer was afraid even if she was previously reassured by one of the detective, that everything was going to be fine and nothing was going to happen to, “ He knew my name. If he was here, I couldn’t screw this up”, Jennifer stated. (Thompson, p.36). She was determined and so was everyone else in the case, the fact that she had seen a sketch of her rapist skewed her memory. Her memory of the assailant was similar to Cotton, but had noticeable differences. The unconscious transference from the sketch drawn and the picture shown in the photo line up led to a new memory trace that encoded over the original memory of her rapist, giving her no choice but to choose the man whom she thought looked like they man she pictured in her mind. Having a memory from a eye witness that has been affected by unconscious transference should not be used as evidence, previous studies show that “subjects were nearly three times more likely to misidentify the bystander than control subjects, and a majority of them thought that the assailant and the bystander were the same person seen in two different places” (Ross et. al., 1994, p.927). Additionally, to having these factors play a big role on your memory, cross-race effect can also...

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