Factors affecting eyewitness testimony

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  • Factors affecting eyewitness testimony
    • Anxiety has a negative effect on memory
      • Loftus et al (1987) argued the 'weapon focus effect' by which a witness to a crime is focused on the weapon rather than the face of the culprit, therefore negatively affecting recall ability.
      • Loftus had participants sit in a waiting room for 2 conditions. 1) pen in grease (Low anxiety condition) and 2) knife covered in blood (High anxiety condition)
        • After being asked to identify the man from a set of photos, condition 2 = 49% accurate condition 1 = 33% accurate
    • Anxiety has a positive effect on memory
      • Evolutionary terms = if you were attacked by an animal, it would be advantageous to remember this event as to avoid trouble in the future.
      • Christianson and Hubinette (1993) found enhanced recall in 58 witnesses of a bank robbery in Sweden.
        • Both victims (workers) and bystanders (customers) had enhanced recall. All above 75% recall, victims were more anxious and had higher recall.
    • Resolving the contradiction
      • Deffenbacher (1983) reviewed 21 studies of anxiety's effect on EWT and found 10 showed increased accuracy linked to higher anxiety, other 11 showed low anxiety linked to higher recall.
        • Deffenbacher said the Yerkes-Dodson effect could account for this inconsistency.
          • Medium anxiety is best for recall, too extreme or too low levels reduces accuracy.
    • Evaluation
      • Weapon focus effect more surprise than anxiety: Pickel (1998) had a thief enter a hair salon with 1) Scissors, 2) Handgun, 3) Wallet, or 4) A whole raw chicken.
        • Identification of the attacker was less accurate in the high surprise conditions rather than the high threat/anxiety. Suggests weapon focus effect related to surprise rather than anxiety
      • Unethical studies: Studies of EWT involve distressing stimuli that could bring ethical concerns of psychological harm. E.G. If the crime was extremely traumatic, victims may suffer by being asked to recall from the scenario.
      • Artificial scenarios that have no emotional involvement for witnesses. More serious crimes with extremely high anxiety content that can affect recall.


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