The Complications Of Eyewitness Memory

In the past, eyewitnesses were used to solve many serious crimes. They are an effective tool for catching the criminal. Eyewitnesses describe what they have seen. The testimonies of eyewitnesses are valuable, but there can also be complications. The eyewitness can see a lot of things that are not in the memory. Our memory can be affected either by bias or a clouded memory.

In class, we learned that memories are not always accurate. Memory is a sketchy reconstruction of the past that may include distorted details or be inaccurate. Reconstructing memories pose one of first issues in eyewitnesses’ testimonies. This memory has been a problem for eyewitnesses in many cases. Loftus and Jacqueline Pickrell conducted an experiment on ordinary people. Loftus is a renowned researcher and psychologist. They were interested in whether the person would remember a false statement if given three false statements and three true ones. A relative of the subject was also invited to come and confirm the false tale, along with a description of where they were. Then, they asked the subjects to add more details, or they were asked if the memory was vague or clear. A staggering one-third of people claimed to have remembered an event which never happened (Loftus E. F. and Pickrell J. E., 1995, page). In two follow-up interviews, it was stated that 25% of the individuals still remembered vividly this untrue incident. Numerous other studies show similar results. They prove that it’s possible to fabricate a false story to fool an eyewitness into believing that something happened. Memory is malleable and can be easily manipulated by retroactive interference, which involves old information being mixed with new, or even proactive interference, whereby old information obscures the new. In addition, suggestibility can be a factor. For example, if a witness is told “yes”, they will likely believe that the event happened.

Encoding occurs when an eyewitness notices a criminal committing the crime. The person immediately begins to pay close attention to what they’re seeing. Encoding helps to capture information. The two most common ways to encode at a crime-scene are visual and audio. Visual encoding is a process that encodes images into pictures the brain can retain. This type usually goes from short-term to long-term. Although it may be fascinating to picture a crime, the person’s trauma can make it difficult to do so. The stress that is induced by criminal events can also affect eyewitness memories. This can be detrimental to the encoding and storing of stimuli relevant by increasing psychophysiological reactions (Deffenbacher Bornstein Penrod McGorty 2004, 2004). The image can be altered if a suspect is armed. This has not been proven. Loftus used different images to show participants in her study. In the first picture, a customer is holding a pistol while the second shows a customer with a chequebook. Participants who viewed both photos were more likely to concentrate on the man holding the gun than the one with the checkbook. This allowed them to describe the gun better. Eyewitnesses may not be able fully to identify the suspect’s physical characteristics when encoding issues arise. It is a big problem when asked to describe a suspect by an eyewitness. The eye witness may not be able to recall the exact image of the suspect. It could be that it is a memory problem. A second way would be if an eyewitness confuses traits because they didn’t look at them closely enough.

Dual encoding is another option. When someone uses two senses. If a woman was being raped by a man, she could use the visual appearance of him and his voice to remember what he said. While this can be very beneficial, it could also lead to a tendency to only focus on one of the senses and forget the rest.

The act of recognition is to remember experiences by using clues and hints. According to dual model models, the retrieval process of recognition memory relies on familiarity and recall (Rugg and Curran 2003, p. 1). Example: a multiple-choice exam in which you can eliminate answers by using the elimination process. Eyewitnesses must choose from a collection of images a particular person to testify. Imagine there are ten photos. The eyewitness begins by recollecting the details of the suspect’s appearance. You can then use the process to eliminate the suspect by comparing each picture. One problem with this method is that eyewitnesses can be confused if all of the possible suspects look the same.

The acronym PORN describes the difference between retroactive and proactive. Eyewitnesses often have difficulty recalling exactly what they see because of interference. The old memory may interfere with the new one. This type of interference is known as proactive interference. John A. Bergstrom’s first experiment on interference required people to sort the cards into piles. Sorting became slower when the location of the second pile was changed. This shows that learning the first set was difficult because the sorting rules from the previous set were still in place. 1989, pg. 6).

Benton J. Underwood is an American psychologist who has been credited with revisiting the Ebbinghaus curve of learning. He concluded that a large part of forgetting was caused by interference from material that had already been learned (Underwood B. J., 1957, page 64). 64). Muller first coined the term retroactive interference. 1990, pg. 1). Retroactive interference occurs when old information is mixed with new. In the case of an eyewitness being called in for a questioning a few weeks later, old events can be confused with new ones. This can have serious consequences for a court case as false information may be accidentally said. In their long-term memory, they may have memories that interfere with other things and create confusion.


  • jamielane

    Jamie Lane is a 31-year-old blogger and traveler who loves to share his educational experiences with others. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been traveling the world ever since. Jamie is always looking for new and interesting ways to learn, and he loves to share her findings with others.

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