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Eyewitness Testimony Factors: Age
During an eyewitness testimony, there are certain factors of the process that can have an effect on
the outcome of reliable and useful information. One of these factors is the age of the witness of
victim giving the testimony. As there is an increase in crime that can involve children and the
statements giving may be important concerning the investigation. The amount of information given
can depend on the intelligence of the person within a certain age group, the way in which their short
term and long term memory work, or even the circumstance of the event and how the person would
have made sense of what went on.
Parker and Carranza (1989) found in an experiment of identification that primary school students
were more likely to make an error in identifying the target individual than college students after viewing
a mock crime sequence. This supports the idea that the age of the witness does have an effect on the
testimony, and that children are more likely to make errors in such circumstances. But Anastasi and
Rhodes (2006) found that individuals can identify targets that are of a similar age to them, making the
individual age biased. It shows that when identifying people, witnesses that are of around the same age
as the target can give more reliable testimonies.
However, the time between the event and the identification can also affect how much a person of a
certain age can recall. Memon et al (2003) found that there was no difference in the accuracy of recall
between the 16-33 age group and the 60-82 age group witnesses when the delay between the event
and identification was 35minutes; but when the delay was one week, the accuracy of the 60-82 age
group fell significantly.
From the studies, it is apparent that people within a middle age group of around 18-40 are more
capable of recapping events more accurately. In an investigation, it would be less suitable for a child
eyewitness testimony to be used.
Although studies show that younger witnesses are less accurate, the interview strategy and the
questions that are asked can also have an effect on the way the individual answers the question. Ceci
et al (2000) found that out of children aged 3-12, ages children who were ages 3 and 4 had their
memories altered by the leading questions they were asked. In 2002, 5-year-old Samantha Runnion was
kidnapped from outside her home. The only witness was her 6-year-old friend, Sarah Ahn - who gave a
very precise description of the suspect and the car he drove; they were able to catch him days later.
But Ceci also said that the worst accuracy is from aged 2-3 year olds, but as the children who are older,
they can relay detail in their testimonies. People's ability to be eyewitnesses are at its best at the age
of 12years and it does not change until old age when it starts to lessen
Warren et al (2005) also found that between the children's and adult's testimonies, the children's
were more influenced by the misleading questions that were asked; this means that interviewing a
witness would have to involve selecting an appropriate interview method that the person would be
able to understand, in order to retrieve substantial and correct information. In the 1980's children who
attended McMartin preschool accused their caretakers of sexually abusing them, which was not true;
but their memories had been altered by the leading questions. Saywitz (1995) suggested asking
better questions that use simpler vocabulary to children and to ask questions that are open ended. For
example, a cognitive interview may be more suitable for younger children because children tend not to
remember specific details, but an older witness around 18+ can supply good information from both a
standard and cognitive interview which gives a variety of information.
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