Misleading Information and EWT

Outline and evaluate research into the impact of misleading information on the accuracy of EWT (12 marks).

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Outline and evaluate research into the impact of
misleading information on the accuracy of EWT (12 marks).
One study of the impact of misleading information on the accuracy of EWT was Loftus and
Palmer who showed 150 participants a film of an accident between to cars and were then
asked to fill out a questionnaire about the accident. The questionnaire was the same for all
apart from one question: `how fast were the two cars going when they hit each other'. This
question was varied for other participants by substituting the word hit with the word
smashed, collided, bumped, or contacted. Loftus and Palmer found the mean speed the
participant gave was fastest when the word `smashed' was given (at 41mph) and slowest
when the word `contacted' was used (at 32mph). This shows that recall can be distorted by
the wording of a question.
Loftus and Zanni also conducted an experiment in which participants were shown a film of a
car accident and were then asked about a non-existant broken headlight. They found that
more people claimed to see a broken headlight when they asked `did you see the broken
headlight' than if they asked `did you see a broken headlight'. This suggests that leading
questions effect people's recall, and when the definite article is used, participants are more
likely to agree so not to appear stupid.
However, these experiments were a laboratory experiments, and thus had low mundane
realism and low ecological validity, meaning that the results may not be able to be applied to
real life. There was also no emotional attachment, and no consequentiality ­ and research by
Foster shows that answers given by those who believe the incident was real are more likely
to be correct in comparison to those who believe the incident is fake. Due to the research
being carried out with independent groups, there are likely to be independent variables, and
participants are likely to be psychology students and thus there is poor population validity.
Also the Loftus effect may have occurred, meaning participants tried to answer in the way
they thought Loftus wanted so not to mess up her research, as she is a highly influential
psychologist.
Yuille and Cutshall conducted a study on 13 people who had witnessed a real armed robbery.
4 months after the event, the psychologists interviewed the participants and asked them
two misleading questions. Here they found that the misleading questions did not effect their
recall, and few facts recalled had been made up or distorted. Due to this being a natural
experiment, it has high ecological validity, although there may have been a large amount of
extraneous variables that could have effected the outcome.
Further research has suggested that it could be that the participants involved in these
studies may have recall and thus are simply agreeing with the influential researchers, and
accepting the extra information as the truth, as they have no other source on which to draw.
Although Loftus' arguments may not always be accurate, evidence from them have changed
the way that trials are run ­ such as the judge having to inform the jury that it is not safe to
convict on one eyewitness testimony alone, and has also meant that police and lawyers are
urged to use fewer leading questions.
Isobel Gaines

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