Contemporary Debate - Reliability of Eyewitness testimony (Eyewitnesses -…
Contemporary Debate - Reliability of Eyewitness testimony
Eyewitnesses - not reliable
7% of those asked 'Did you see a broken headlight?' reported seeing one, whereas 17% of those asked 'Did you see the broken headlight?' reported seeing a headlight. Shows the effect of subtle wording of a question can have an influence on someone's memory.
Also suggests that when a witness is questioned, the recollection of the actual event may be distorted.
Crimes are emotive experiences
crimes that people may witness may be emotionally traumatising therefore EWT may not be reliable.
Freud argued that painful and threatening memories are forced into the unconscious mind. Repression is an ego defence mechanism but is now known as 'motivated forgetting'.
Therefore if the event is traumatising an EWT may not be reliable.
Child witnesses are not reliable
Children are prone to fantasy and their memories may be affected by others suggestions.
Study found that children under the age of 5 were less likely than older children and adults to make correct identifications when the target was present in a lineup. Children aged 5-15 did not differ significantly from adults in target present condition but were more likely to make a mistake in the target absent condition.
This may be because children wanted to do what they were told and pick someone out despite the target being absent.
Eyewitnesses - reliable
Crimes are emotive experiences
Some psychologist believe we create a particularly accurate and long lasting memory when we experience events which are very emotionally shocking. This is called a flashbulb memory.
Hormones such as adrenaline (associated with emotion) have been suggested to enhance the storage of memories.
This suggests that the emotion surrounding a crime may actually lead to more, rather than less reliable memories.
Child witnesses are reliable
Literature review discovered that children aged between 6 and 7 and 10 and 11 are fairly accurate in their memories of an event and do not make things up or alter their memories by influence.
all age groups are most accurate at identifying an offender in a line up if they are from their own age group.
eye witness (EW) research may be misleading as it focus on remembering details which are difficult to estimate. Such as the speed in loftus and palmers research.
Loftus showed individuals slides of a man stealing a red purse from a woman's bag. The participants were later exposed to information containing subtle errors or obvious one stating that the purse was brown. 98% correctly remembered the purse they had seen was red.
key details may be more resistant to distortion from post event information than previously said.
Ethical, Social and Economical
60% of 500 cases of wrongful convictions involved eye-witness identification errors. Raises ethical implications that there is too much reliance on EWT.
unreliable EWT has big costs in terms of retrials and compensation to those wrongly convicted.
Rick to society as the real perpetrator of the crime remains free.