Core Studies: Loftus & Palmer

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In this study Loftus and Palmer are attempting to demonstrate that memory is not a factual recording of an event and that memories can become distorted by other information which occurs after the event.

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To see the effect of leading questions on the memory of an event

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Experiment 1 - Sample

  • 45 students of the University of Washington
  • Split into 5 groups of 9
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Experiment 1 - Procedure

  • Laboratory Experiment
  • Independent Measures Design
  • They were each shown seven film-clips of traffic accidents
  • The clips ranged from 5 to 30 seconds long.
  • Following each clip, the students were asked to write an account of the accident they had just seen.
  • IV - The verb in the critical question
  • DV - Estimate of the speeds
  • There were five conditions in the experiment:
  • Condition 1: 'About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?'

    Condition 2: 'About how fast were the cars going when they collided into each other?'

    Condition 3: 'About how fast were the cars going when they bumped into each other?'

    Condition 4: 'About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?

    Condition 5: 'About how fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?'

  •  In each condition, a different word or phrase was used to fill in the blank. These words were; smashed, collided, bumped, hit, contacted.

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Experiment 1 - Results

  • Verb & Estimation of Speeds:
  • Smashed: 40.8 mph
  • Collided: 39.3 mph
  • Bumped 38.1 mph
  • Hit 34.0 mph
  • Contacted 31.8 mph

  • Estimate of the cars speeds did vary according to the verb used in the crictical question
  • 'Contacted' got the lowest estimate and 'Smashed' got the highest.
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Experiment 2 - Sample

  • 150 participants
  • Split into 3 groups of 50
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Experiment 2 - Procedure

  • Participants viewed a short (one minute) film which contained a 4 second scene of a multiple car accident
  • There were three conditions:
  • 'How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?'
  • 'How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?'
  • Control group (One set of participants weren't asked about the speed of vehicles)
  • One week later, the participants returned and, without viewing the film again, they answered a series of questions about the accident.
  • The critical question was 'Did you see any broken glass?'
  • There was in fact no broken glass in the film.
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Experiment 2 - Results

Response to the question 'Did you see any broken glass?'

  • 'Smashed' Yes = 16, No = 34
  • 'Hit'         Yes = 7, No = 43
  • 'Control'    Yes = 6 No = 44
  • These results show that the verb (smashed) in the question did have a significant effect on the mis-perception of glass in the film.
  • Those participants that heard the word ?smashed? were more than twice as likely to recall seeing broken glass.
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There are 2 types of info which make up a memory:

  • Information we get from percieving an event
  • Information we get after the event eg. questions asked.
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Key Evaluation Points

Laboratory Experiment

  • High levels of control
  • Low ecological validity


  • Consent Gained
  • Possible distress

Quantative data

  • Easy to analyse
  • Easy to compare
  • Restricted views
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Improvements/ Changes & Implications

An actual car crash with dummies

  • Ethically sound
  • Low ecological validity

Improve sample

  • Diverse - representative

Longitudinal Study

  • High reliability
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