Eyewitness Testimony

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Eyewitness Testimony

Elizabeth Loftus has conducted many studies on eyewitness testimony


In 1974 she worked with John Palmer to look at the ways that memory

can be distorted. The studies general aim was to explore the accuracy

of memory after witnessing a car accident. In particular it was to

find out if leading questions distort the accuracy of eyewitness’s

immediate recall. It also aimed to see if it was true that people were

open to hints, as people are extremely bad at estimating the speed of

moving cars.

45 students were shown 7films of different traffic accidents. After

each film, participants were given a questionnaire asking them to

describe the accident and then answer a sequence of specific questions

about it. The questionnaire contained one critical question ‘about how

fast were the cars going when they hit each other’. This was given to

1 group of participants. The other 4 groups were given different verbs

to replace the word ‘hit’.

Loftus and Palmer found that the group given the verb ‘smashed’

estimated a higher speed than the other groups. The group given verb

‘contacted’ estimated a lower speed than the other groups.

This research study shows us that leading questions can effect the

accuracy of memory.

An additional explanation is that the shape of question actually

alters the participant’s memory account of the accident, which guides

them to give a higher or lower estimate.

One criticism of this study is that it is not true to life. A

laboratory experiment may not signify real life, as people may not

take the experiment seriously and/or they are not emotionally aroused

as they would ...

... middle of paper ...

... for witnesses to accurately

recall a person or event. Geiselman et al. developed an interviewing

technique called the cognitive interview, which was based on verified

psychological principles regarding effective memory recall. Though

there are some problems with this technique, it does have a tendency

to produce more detailed and accurate information than a standard

police interview.

Overall, research has shown EWT to be very unreliable due to its

accuracy. From looking at research by Loftus I feel that EWT is indeed

undependable, and should therefore not be used as often as it is.

However, Geiselman et al. have shown us a way in which we can improve

it. Taking this into consideration, we are unable to come up with one

single conclusion that states whether or not EWT deserves its frequent

use and credibility.
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