Eye witness testimony:


Intro (P1) & Paragraph 2:

  • Eyewitness testimony (EWT) is the account a bystander gives in the courtoom which is always a recollection of events to help out a court case.
  • However it has been suggested that EWT's aren't always accurate.
  • Schema theory - memory recall not an exact reproduction of events - memories are an active process using schema.
  • Schemas can lead to distortions in our memory as our memories can be linked with past experiences or stereotypes which makes EWT's unreliable.
  • E.G. List's shoplifting scenario (1938) - we link schemas to stereotypes by rating shoplifting acts in higher and lower probability - we link schemas to stereotypes.
  • One strength is we use stored knowledge and past experiences to make sense of new memories - can be distored because of this natural process.
  • Another strength is that schemas theory can be tested scientifically in a lab like Bartlett's theory.
  • One weakness is that the concept of schemas are vague and can't show how they are acquired in the first place.
  • Another weakness is is that the theory describes the memory as reconstructive but doesn't deal with the processes of the brain.
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Paragraph 3: ( post - event effects)

  • Info that we receive after a tragic event it seems may also be important in determining accuracy. Known as 'post-event effects'.
  • E.G. Loftus & Palmer's study (tested the influence of leading questiions by changing the adverbs).
  • Research tells us that EWT is vulnerable to distortions and that memories of events can be altered.
  • Their work has been supported by other studies which show that leading q's have an affect.
  • Criticised for lacking ecological validity because they weren't carried out in a realistic environment like a courtroom, it was an artificial setting.
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Paragraph 4: (Emotional factors affecting EWT)

  • Certain emotional factors affecting EWT - explained by the weapons focus effect.
  • Loftus et al suggested that in an event where a weapon is shown (& the witness is stressed as a response) he/she will tend to focus on the weapon itself, rather than the face of the person holding it.
  • If a weapon is used in trial, witness may not be reliable as they weren't concentrating on the face.
  • Loftus carried out a study: 'anxiety of the witness' - exposed participants to one of two situations - Group 1 heard a dicussion about equipment and then a person emerged holding a pen with greasy hands. Group 2 heard a heated debate and then breaking glass and a man emerged holding a knife covered in blood. They were given 50 photos and asked to identify the culprit.
  • Group 1 identified the man on 49% of the times, whereas Group 2 was only successful 33%.
  • Concluded that the anxiety produced by the weapon narrows the attention to it rather than the culprit's face.
  • Investigation supports the weapons focus effect, although Pickel  (1999) found participants were more likely to focus on the weapon, if in an unusual setting - suggests the fact that the weapon was in a different settting caused the shock, not the weapon itself. Only the surprise.
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Paragraph 5: (Face Recognition) & P6: (Identity Pa

  • Recognising faces and faces of the offender is primarily the most important part of any EWT.
  • This has been shown by researchers like Buckhout (1974) who staged a purse theft & conducted 2 line ups but found that only 7 of the witnesses correctly identified the culprit.
  • Suggests that eyewitnesses are poor at recognising faces as can't pin point where they've seen the face before.
  • Taking ethnicity into account, research like Ellis et al 1979 has shown that we are poor at recognising faces from races that aren't our own.
  • Proves that the outline of a face is important when recognising a stranger, but things like eye colour is more important when trying to recognise family members etc.
  • Also another factor is gender - women are better at remembering faces than men. As they are interested in aosical aspects of the world, also better at recognising female faces than males.
  • Identity parades suggest that witnesses find the identity parade more stressful than the crime itself - leads to problems in identifying the culprit correctly as EW's tend to focus on the clothes rather than the unchangable characeristics and this is risky as witnesses will try to chage their appearance, like cutting their hair or shaving their beard.
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