Factors that have an impact on the reliability of eyewitness testimonies

Eyewitness testimony is the usually verbal recount of a person who has experienced an event, typically of the criminal offenses. Eyewitness testimony depends heavily on the ability of the individual's to effectively recount the event. Inside a trial, the jury is most often persuaded due to the statement(s) of the witnesses. Also, in cases where little material data can be accumulated, eyewitnesses will be the focal base for attaining a verdict. It's been argued that because testimonies are typically based on fallible memory which is often influenced by a number of factors, it should not be depended upon. The contention of this essay is to identify and evaluate the extent of accuracy and reliability of this claim by figuring out and evaluating factors that have an effect on memory space and by researching experiments and case studies to reach a conclusion on this matter. Memory and thus eye-witness reliability is becoming an issue of importance due to the raised percentage of mistakes in determining and prosecuting accused individuals. Thus, the trustworthiness of eyewitness testimonies and impact on tests should be assessed.

Memory is thought as a "kind of repository where facts (information) may be retained over some period of time" (Loftus, 1979). Based on the Atkinson and Shiffrin model of memory storage (1971), memory comprises of three different kinds of information stores, each with different length, capacity and function. The foremost is Sensory Memory. This sort of store lasts for the spilt second when individuals collect information using their sensory systems and preserves information in its original sensory form. The sense organs are limited in their capability to store information about the world in an unprocessed method for more than a second. Thus, information is filtered through or picked by attention for even more memory processing into the next type of memory store. This technique of experiencing and filtering information is named acquisition. The next storage store is Short-term storage area allows individuals to sustain information long enough to be utilized and lasts roughly between 15 to 30 a few moments. Miller (1956) proposed that Short-term Memory space acquired a capacity of about 7 chunks of information. If certain actions are carried out, the information will be used in the last kind of recollection store, Long-term Storage. Long-term Memory provides retention of information which can last between minutes to an eternity and has a limitless capacity. The procedure of information transferred in the short-term and long-term recollection store is called retention. Information is continually being transferred between these stores. When witnesses are asked to provide recount of what they witnessed, information is taken from the long-term memory space store and this process is named acquisition.

Events of these three techniques may affect the quality of the eyewitness testimony. Information may well not have been identified to begin with through the acquisition process, information may be ignored or interfered through the retention process or information may be inaccessible during questioning at through the retrieval process.

Events through the Three Processes

During the acquisition process, there are a variety of factors that can affect an eyewitness' report of an event. This is divided into event factors and witness factors. This section of the essay will measure the aftereffect of these factors on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Exposure period to the event or subject of focus can be an event factor. Laughery et al (1971) tested subjects on their recall predicated on the exposure a chance to a picture, exhibited one at a time of different positions of your human being face. Two Caucasian male target encounters were used, one with fair-colored mane and complexion with eyeglasses and another with a darker-colored head of hair and tone without glasses. The unbiased variable is enough time the subjects viewed the pictures, which ranged from ten moments to thirty-two seconds. The themes were them asked, approximately eight minutes after contact with identify the prospective within a series of 150 slides of individuals encounters. The dependant variable is the reliability of the themes' recall. Fifty-eight of the subjects who seen the pictures for thirty-two a few moments correctly identified the target but only forty-seven percent of the subjects who viewed the pictures for ten mere seconds correctly identified the prospective. This shows that the additional time a witness must view the mark, the more correct their recall will be. This research is significant as it is very scientific and accurately tested a particular variable that affects storage and recall. Although this is so, it was also conducted in an artificial environment and thus, has low ecological validity. The research may also contain ethnic and gender bias as it only analyzed for Caucasian men as the mark. Thus, it application to goals of different cultures or gender is questionable.

Estimating factors such as time, rate or distance is often asked of eyewitnesses. This involves perceiving the function and effectively inferring information from it. Marshall (1966)'s experiment tested subject matter' estimation of your time. Four hundred and ninety-one themes viewed a forty-two second film and weekly after they acquired given their written and oral reports of the function, they were questioned as to the duration of the event. On average, content gave an estimation of about ninety seconds. The results show that witnesses can inaccurately estimate certain factors of a meeting. Although the email address details are significant, the study was conducted in a controlled environment gives it little ecological validity. To further assess the precision of this review, an additional research that may be considered is Buckhout et al. (1975 and 1977)'s study on the effects if eyewitness testimony in a genuine situation by staging an episode where a scholar attacked a teacher before 141 witnesses. The episode lasted for thirty-four secs but when interviewed later on, the average estimation of the duration of the event was eighty-one moments, almost twice the actual time. This research helps' Marshall's analysis which shows that there is a trend for witnesses to overestimate the length of time in an event. That is significant generally, especially for situations of self-defense where the time between the harm and the retaliation is very significant in the categorization of the action.

Another event factor is the assault of the event. A study done by Clifford and Scott (1978) looked into the ability of eyewitnesses to understand violent and non-violent happenings. Forty-eight content with equal amount of women and men watched each one of two tapes. Within the non-violent version, the heroes were involved in a verbal exchange and poor restraining movements. In the violent version, one of the individuals in physical form assaults another character. In an effort to be even, the beginning and end of the tapes were manipulated to be equivalent. It was found that no matter gender, the level of recall is significantly lower for those who viewed the more violent tape. It really is inferred that this is because of the higher amount of stress that is produced in respond to the violent event. This demonstrates eyewitness testimony of a violent event should be considered with the probability of an increased rate of inaccuracy. Though the email address details are significant because of the high stability of the scientific method used, it also lacks ecological validity as it was conducted in an unnatural environment where witnesses do not actually go through the event.

An event factor that is from the witness factor, stress, is tool focus. Easterbrook (1959) discovered that under high stress, individuals tend to concentrate more on the few features of their environment and less attention to other features. Tool focus is in which a crime sufferer is confronted with an assailant who is brandishing a weapon.

During a meeting, stress is a witness factor that should be taken into account. This identifies the amount of stress or fear that a witness experiences that may influence their understanding during the acquisition procedure for the function. A simulated case study done by Berkun (1962) placed military recruits in a nerve-racking situation. These were isolated apart from a telephone hyperlink. Then, they were told that these were in peril to induce panic and were necessary to repair a damaged radio by following a series of complicated instructions. It was found that the advanced of anxiousness impaired performance of the subjects. As this case study was conducted during a amount of different ethical criteria than today, there are honest implications to be considered. Nevertheless, the results of this case study significantly helps the Yerkes-Dodson rules (1908) which claims that mental arousal facilitates learning and performance up to a point after which there's a decrement. This is applied to eyewitnesses who experience stress. Their senses may be activated but after a spot, their acquisition process will be negatively afflicted. Although this is so, this research study has only looked at male military, thus when put on the general people, it lacks ecological validity.

Eye-witnesses are being analyzed on their retention of information using their company Long-term Memory. Because retained information and therefore, memory is being transferred between memory space stores, it is possible that it can be influenced, increased or even distorted. Numerous researches have been carried out to research the accuracy of this or the magnitude of affect that might occur.

Loftus and Palmer (1974) completed an experiment to investigate the result of leading questions on the accuracy and reliability of individuals in recalling an automobile crash. 45 participants were sectioned off into 7 teams and each group viewed a video recording of traffic injuries. The videos lasted from 5 to 30 moments. After seeing the video, individuals had to provide an account of what that they had just seen. The independent variable is the question "About how exactly fast were the autos heading when they hit one another?". The term 'hit' is replaced with the words 'smashed', 'approached', 'bumped' and 'collided' for different communities. The participants answer regarding the estimation of the automobiles' swiftness is the dependant changing. Loftus and Palmer discovered that the mean estimation of speed to get more aggressive words such as 'smashed' is greater than less competitive words such as 'contacted'. The results are highly significant, p<0. 005 matching to analysis by variance of the data. This indicates that there surely is an impact of the wording used on the speed estimations. This experiment facilitates the idea that eye-witness testimony can indeed be flawed or manipulated by recounts under questioning such as a merchant account of an event from an eye-witness by way of a officer. However, criticism of this experiment is directed at its ecological validity. As the test was conducted in a manipulated laboratory environment and the automobile crash was only viewed, not experienced, the application of the results of the test is questionable when applied to real-life situations.

Contending the results of this test is Yuille and Cutshall (1986) case study of a genuine life event. 13 participants were interviewed using Loftus and Palmer's (1974) approach in their remember four to five calendar months after witnessing an attempted robbery in daylight where one person was wiped out and another, significantly wounded. It was found that there is a very advanced of similarity between your accounts distributed by the witnesses, the accounts didn't alter in response to leading questions and that the witnesses were able to recall the function in detail. Also, accounts of those who had been more distressed experienced a higher exactness level. These results are dissimilar to Loftus and Palmer (1974). The attention witnesses didn't alter their accounts greatly in response to leading questions. As this is a case study, it contains high ecological validity unlike laboratory experiments. Although this can be true, Yuille and Cutshall's case study was of a meeting that was relatively distressing event and was seen in ideal conditions. Most incidents do not mirror this setting up. Also, it was a study of only one case study. Hence, the application of these results is debatable when put on general eye witness testimonies.

Loftus and Zanni (1974) conducted a modification of the initial Loftus and Palmer research to research the effect of post event information on memory.

Defining memory

Theories/Models of Memory

Consolidation Theory

Ecological Validity

Forms of Eyewitness Testimony

There are multiple ways in which eyewitness testimonies can get. This essay aims to evaluate mainly, photo spreads, recounts under questioning, line-ups and photo-based line-ups and. Each form has its advantages or drawbacks in the evaluation of its facilitation or hindrance to the accuracy of testimonies.

Line-ups + Photography based line-ups

Witness likely to choose one

Choosing of think by previous image(s) shown

Line-up size

Characteristics of line-up individuals

Photo spreads

Only based on facial appearance

Biasness of photography quality

Multiple-recognition test

Recounts under questioning

Type of fact

Investigator's influence





Weapon emphasis + Assault of event


Exposure time


Interaction with other see(es)

Media coverage of event

Time interval


Method of questioning

Question wording


Loftus 2002: Washington snipper -> white truck.

Frederic Vartlett: remembering 1932

Also We Can Offer!

Other services that we offer

If you don’t see the necessary subject, paper type, or topic in our list of available services and examples, don’t worry! We have a number of other academic disciplines to suit the needs of anyone who visits this website looking for help.

How to ...

We made your life easier with putting together a big number of articles and guidelines on how to plan and write different types of assignments (Essay, Research Paper, Dissertation etc)