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The reliability of eyewitness testimony

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  1. Eyewitness testimony refers to the statement given by a witness to an event
  2. Loftus and Palmer (1974) aimed to investigate the effects of leading questions on eyewitness' ability to recall information
  3. Loftus and Palmer acknowledged that there may be another factor affecting the results
  4. Yuille and Cutshall (1986) used a real-life incident to study whether stress and anxiety has an effect on ability to recall
  5. Pickel (1998) used laboratory experiments to investigate whether poor ability to recall an incident was due to a weapon being seen and causing high levels of stress
  6. The participants were then told to complete a filler task for 10 minutes
  7. From these results, Pickel understood that the handgun and raw chicken resulted in the poorest recall of the man,
  8. Both Loftus and Palmer (1974) and Pickel (1998) prove against the reliability of eyewitness testimony,

Eyewitness testimony refers to the statement given by a witness to an event, and is a major area of research in cognitive psychology but also has a major effect on criminological psychology, such as being asked to describe the appearance of a suspect, or a detailed account of what occurred before, during and after a certain crime was committed. It is important because in some cases no forensic evidence can be traced, and investigators have no choice but to rely on the memory of witnesses.

[...] Both Loftus and Palmer (1974) and Pickel (1998) prove against the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and therefore major consideration should be taken before court decisions are made which could significantly change lives. However Yuille and Cutshall (1986) believe eyewitness testimony is reliable and is not easily changed by events that occur after the incident. However I strongly believe that in court trials regarding serious criminal offences, scientific data should be relied upon (where possible) as opposed to witness accounts. Although witness recall is reliable to some extent, we should not be taking any chances when it comes to the future of someone's life. [...]

[...] Jennifer Thompson said she had carefully studied the face of the rapist. However when she was told to identify him from the selection of suspects shown, she most likely unconsciously chose the person who matched most closely to the appearance of the rapist, because she was so sure that she knew the facial features of the rapist. This goes to prove that memory is not reliable, as unfortunately Ronald Cotton endured 11 years in prison due to Jennifer Thompson's accidental misjudgement. [...]

[...] They interviewed 13 witnesses of a robbery and gun shooting outside a shop in Canada months after the police had interviewed them. They found that recall was still accurate, and two misleading questions asked by the researchers had no effect on recall accuracy. This allowed them to come to two conclusions; there are cases of real life in which recall of a stressful/anxious event is still accurate, even after a long period of time, and that misleading questions do not have the same effect that have been found in laboratory studies (such as Loftus and Palmer). [...]

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