cognitive approach key issue

unit 2, as edexcel psychology

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This is an important issue because of the number of cases where people are found guilty of crimes
with no other evidence except for eyewitness testimonies.
An eyewitness is a witness to a crime, who must give their account of the event, and possibly identify
the criminal from an identity parade or appear in court. This can lead to a conviction, so if the
eyewitness testimony is wrong, someone has been wrongly convicted of a crime they did not
Elizabeth Loftus is a leading expert in the area and has done a lot of research into the reliability of
eyewitness testimonies. She has identified many useful factors. For example, eyewitnesses can be
swayed by identity parades (this is likely to be because they want to help so feel they must answer,
or might assume that the criminal has to be in the line-up). They will be looking to find the nearest
match to the person they saw, not the actual person: this can lead to wrongful convictions. For
example, if the eyewitness saw a black person commit a crime, and the line-up consisted of five
white men and one black man, the black man may be chosen as guilty.
A real-life example is that of Bobby Joe Leaster. In 1970, he was picked up by the police for
murdering a shop-owner and was taken to the shop, where the deceased's wife identified him as
the murderer from the back of the police car. He was sentenced to life in prison. In 1986, after
Leaster has spent sixteen years in imprisonment, the bullet of the victim was matched to a gun linked
to two robbers of the time of the murder. Leaster was released, after spending 16 years in prison
for a crime he did not commit. After an analysis of 69 cases of wrongful conviction, it was found that
29 of them (42%) were due to mistaken identity from eyewitnesses.
Application of concepts and ideas:
Bartlett (1932) discussed the idea that memory is not like a tape recorder, how schemata affect
Loftus and Ketcham (1991) found that innocent individuals were wrongly convicted 45% of the time
by eyewitness testimonies from the police cases they studied
Chartier (1977) suggests that an eyewitness' memory of the events will be vague, and so will try to
fill in the gaps to make it make more sense to them, which goes with the theory of memory being

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The term flashbulb memory refers to when the memory of an event is so powerful; it is as though the
memory is a photograph which the person can relive to such detail long after the event has taken
place. Researchers use the phrase "now print" to explain these memories, because it was as if the
whole episode was a snapshot and imprinted in memory as such.…read more


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