Effects of anxiety on eyewitness testimony

Done in the form of a newspaper article, shows the research done on how anxiety effects EWT

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  • Created on: 05-02-12 17:34
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Arinola Akande
Psychology Weekly
The magazine that stimulates young intellectual minds.
This week's debate: Does anxiety affect Eye Witness testimony?
Professor Yesmina Vs Professor Noel
Professor Yesmina believes that anxiety leads to less accurate eye
witness testimony. Professor Noel strongly disagrees with this and
believes that anxiety does not negatively affect eye witness
To back up her views, Professor Yesmina uses the studies of
Deffenbacher et al (2004), Pickel and Lotus et al. Lotus et al identified the weapon effect in 1987
and then in 1998 Pickel did a similar study with familiar results. Lotus et al used two conditions in their
initial experiment; one with a weapon one without. The procedure for this study was that participants
heard a discussion in a room adjoining to there's and then a men emerged for that room. In the first
instance, the man came out of the room holding a pen and grease on his hands. In the second
instance, the discussion was heated and then the man came out with a paper knife covered in blood.
The accuracy level was higher in condition one than it was in condition two. This suggests that people
in condition two where drawn to the weapon, not the person, which explains why certain details in
violent crime may be forgotten as they were not paid attention two. To strengthen their case, Lotus
et al monitored eyewitness' movement and found out that the presence of a weapon physically
draws a persons eye to towards it and away from the person actually carrying the weapon.
Pickel's experiment was similar but he used a slightly different situation and more conditions. The
procedure for his experiment was that all participants had to watch a 2 minute video of a scene from
a hair salon, where a man walks to the receptionist and she hands him money. The participants were
split into 5 groups and each group watched a variation of this video;
1. Nothing
2. Scissors which is a high threat and low unusualness
3. Handgun which is high threat and high unusualness
4. Wallet which is Low threat and Low unusualness
5. Raw Chicken which is low threat and High unusualness
After 10 minutes, participants filled out a questionnaire split
into two parts:
1. Asked about the receptionist as she was viewed before the man.
2. Asked to describe the man, what he was doing and identify him in a line up.
The results where that the main effect of memory was not the objects that had a
high threat level but those that had a high level of unusualness. This meant that the chicken received a
high amount of attention even though it was not a threat to the receptionist. This shows that the
conditions with high threat which would cause high levels of stress where not remembered as much
as a situation with unusual objects.
Lastly, Professor Yesmina states that Deffenbacher et al carried out a mega study of 18 studies that
had been published between 1974 and 1997 about the effects of anxiety on accuracy of eyewitness

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Arinola Akande
recall and came to the conclusion that high levels of negativity impacted on the accuracy of
eyewitness memory.
Professor Noel disagrees with Professor Yesmina and the study done by Pickel as he says that it lacks
ecological valid. As it was a lab test, it may not be representative of real life situations as participants
where not in the situation and eye witness testimony could not have been as accurate as if they
experienced the situation, they just watched a video.…read more


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