Memory in everyday life

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EWT: Anxiety

Anxiety can affect the reliability of EWT

Loftus et al (1987)

Aim: To investigate the effect of the presence of a weapon in a crime on the recall of events

Methods: 36 paid, uni student volunteers, deceived with a story of the true purpose of the study. Split into 2 groups and their eye movements were monitored.

  • Ppts viewed a series of 18 slides showing a man queuing to order from a cashier at a restaurant
  • Towards the end of the sequence, 4 slides showed the man either handing over a cheque or pulling out a gun and receiving some money

A series of distractor slides were then shown for 15 mins and ppts were asked to write notes about them. 

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EWT: Anxiety (2)

Ppts were then given a discription of the man and were asked to identify his picture out of 12 photos and say how confident they were that they were correct.

Findings: Only 11.1% of ppts in the gun condition correctly identified the man in the photos compared with 38.9% in the cheque condition. Analysis of the eye movements showed that ppts fixated on the gun more often and for longer than they fixated on the cheque.

Conclusion: The presence of a weapon narrowed the focus of visual attention resulting in poorer EWT.


  • Laboratory studies of weapon focus are not as stressful as real-life encounters so these findings cannot be generalised to real-world situations
  • It may be the novelty of the gun rather than the anxiety it provokes that is responsible for the effect

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EWT: Age

Goodman and Reed (1986)

Aim: To investigate the effects of age on EWT

Method: 3 groups of ppts aged 3, 6 or 22 each spent 5 mins being videotapped in the company of an adult male stranger. They were told that the study was to investigate age differences in learning. The man asked them some questions and taught them a sequences of movements.

4/5 days later, ppts were told the true nature of the study and were asked to:

  • free recall everything they could remember about the meeting
  • complete a questionnaire that included incorrectly leading questions
  • identify the man from 5 photos
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EWT: Age (2)


  • 6 & 22 year olds' recall was better than 3 year olds'
  • On leading questiones, resistance to suggestion increased with age
  • In free recall, accuracy increased with age
  • 6 and 22 year olds were better at photo identification than 3 year olds

Conclusion: We can trust 6 year olds' and adults' recall, however the younger the child the more suggestible they are and the less they remember in general


  • Some of the 3 year olds wanted their parents with them which indicates that the situation may have been stressful (anxiety) this may have been distracting
  • The way in which memory was tested might not have been appropriate for this age group and they have benefitted from the use of props or images.
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EWT: Misleading information

Loftus and Palmer (1974)

Aim: To investigate the effect of leading questions on the accuracy of EWT

Method: 45 students were shown 7 clips of car accidents and then divided into 5 groups. They were asked to estimate how fast the cars were travelling when they either 'hit' each other, 'collided with', 'bumped into', 'smashed into' or 'contacted with' 

Findings: estimates of speed varied according to the verb used.

'smashed into' = highest estimates (about 40mph) and 'contacted with' = lowest estimates (30mph)

In a follow up experiment using a similar method, students were asked whether they had seen any broken glass (there wasn't any): 32% of the 'smashed into' group said yes compared to 14% in the 'hit' group.

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The Cognitive Interview

The Cognitive Interview Schedule (CIS) was was developed after the traditional standard interview procedure made it easy for erros to occur (in responce to the research into EWT)

Recreating the context: Recalling the context in which the incident occurred (weather, lighting, smells, sounds, emotions)

Reporting the event: Witness asked to report absolutely everything they can remember even if it seems irrelevant

Recall in different orders: Reporting the event in reverse order

Change in perspectives: Witness asked to describe the scene from the position of one or more of the other people present at the scene

First two stages based on cue-dependent forgetting: memory retrieval helped by external context and internal personal states that we wre in when memory was formed.

Second two stages: enable witnesses to think about events in ways that might enrich their recall



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Research related to the CIS

Geiselman et al (1985) (Lab experiment)

Aim: To investigate whether the CIS improves EWT

Method: Ppts were shown a police training film of a violent crime and were interviewed 48 hours later using the CIS or standard interview

Findings: (supports CIS)

  • There were no differences in the amount of false info given
  • The standard interview produced the least amount of info overall
  • Correct items were recalled more often when the CIS was used

Conclusion: The CIS produces more correct details than standard interview procedures. (More accurate.detailed information)

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Research related to the CIS

Fisher et al (1989) (field experiment)

Detectives in Florida were trained using the CIS and their performance was assessed following interviews with real-life witnesses to crimes. 

Compared with pre-training levels, it was found that as much as 47% more information was obtained using the CIS.

Bekerain and Dennett (1993)

In their review of 27 studies into the effectiveness of the CIS it was found that the CIS provided more accurate info than any other interview procedure. (Lots of support makes it more reliable)

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Evaluation of the CIS


  • The superiority of the CIS over the standard interview technique has led to its use by police forces and law enforcement agencies all over the world.
  • Research has shown that ppts are less easily led to leading and misleading questions when CIS is used, making their testimony more reliable.
  • Research has shown that the CIS may be particularly beneficial to those interviewing child witnesses (as long as the interviewer is properly trained to adapt the interview to the child's linguistic and cognitive abilities)


  • Lab studies conducted to assess the effectiveness of the CIS lack realism and are therefore low in ecological validity making it difficult to generalise the findings to other situations.
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Strategies for improving memory


Repeating information keeps the memory trace alive in the STM and allows it to pass to LTM. However such shallow processing leads to short retention and it has been suggested that rehearsal needs to be more meaningful.


Craik and Lockheart found that people could rememeber words when they answered a question about their meaning. This involves deeper processing and ensures that information is encoded semantically which helps to store it in LTM.

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Strategies for improving memory


Learning and recalling information in the same context or setting can enhance our retrieval of memories. 

Even imagining yourself back in that environment works just as well.


Godden and Baddeley (study of divers) demonstrated that cues in the learning environment can 'jog' or 'trigger' our memories.

Their participants were much better at recalling a list of words when they learned and recalled in the same place

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Strategies for improving memory

Method of Loci

This techniques involves mentally placing objects in a series of location in a familiar place such as our home, then taking a mental walk around to retrieve those items from our memory. 

We use what we already know well (the rooms in our house) in our LTM to create a trigger for the new information.


Groninger asked participants to place 25 words along a familiar foute or learn them any way they liked. 

The method of loci group recalled twice as many words after 5 weeks than those using their own methods

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Strategies for improving memory


LTM is organised so you should be too! Organising information into hierarchical mind maps improves later recall.

A mind map forces you to process information more deeply, for meaning and to make links which later act as triggers. Adding colours and other visual aids enables you to picture the map to further improve recall


Bower et al. showed ppts a list of 112 words arranged randomly or organised in a conceptual hierarchy (eg mindmap).

Recall of the words was much better for ppts in the organised condition of the experiment.

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Altering a verb in a question affects both speed estimation and details of what is recalled.

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