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Eye Witness Testimony Can It Be Trusted?

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Submitted By alexcorbett
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“The testimony of an eyewitness is so flawed that it can never be trusted”
To what extent is eyewitness testimony as flawed as the quote suggests?
The eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate and distorted: Eyewitness testimony (EWT) is the evidence provided by people who witnesses a particular event or crime. It relies on recall from memory. EWT includes, for example, descriptions or criminals (e.g. hair colour, height) and crime scenes (e.g. time, date, location). Witnesses are often inaccurate in their recollection of events and the people involved. As you can probably imagine, this has important implications when it comes to police interviews. Many cognitive psychologists focus on working out what factors affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, and how accuracy can be improved in interviews.
Loftus and palmer (1974) studied eyewitness testimony and investigated how EWT can be distorted. Loftus and Zanni (1975) also looked at leading questions. Loftus and Zanni (1975) showed participants a film of a car accident, then asked them either ‘did you see the broken headlight?’ or ‘did you see a broken headlight?’ there was no broken headlight, but 7% of those asked about ‘a’ broken headlight claimed they saw one, compared to 17% in the group asked about the accuracy of people’s memories of an event.
The accuracy of eyewitness testimony is affected by many factors as well as leading questions, there are other factors that can affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. The age of the witness can affect the accuracy of recall, Valentine and Coxon (1997) studied this and it showed that the age of the witness can have an effect on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Anxiety can also affect focus. Psychologists tend to believe that small increases in anxiety and arousal may increase the accuracy of memory, but high levels have a negative effect on accuracy. In violent crimes (where anxiety and arousal are likely to be high), the witness may focus on central details (e.g. a weapon) and neglect other peripheral details. Loftus (1979) studied weapon focus in EWT. This is when the witness gets anxious and aroused, witnesses focus on a weapon at the expense of the other details, i.e. the criminals face.
The cognitive interview. The cognitive interview was developed to increase accuracy. Cognitive psychologists have played a big part in helping to increase the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. As you’ve seen, research shows that the accuracy of eyewitness testimony is affected by many factors. The cognitive interview technique was developed by Geiselman et al (1984) to try to increase the accuracy of witnesses’ recall of events during police questioning. Here’s basically what happens in cognitive interviews: The interviewer tries to make the witness relaxed and tailors his/her language to suit the witness. The witness recreates the environmental and internal (e.g. mood) context of the crime scene. The witness reports absolutely everything that they can remember about the crime. The witness is asked to recall details of the crime in different orders. The witness is asked to recall the event from various different perspectives, e.g. from the eyes of other witnesses. The interviewer avoids any judgemental and personal comments.
Conclusion: So yes the eyewitness testimony does have its flaws as I have explained and shown but I believe it is a good way of getting information from witnesses about crimes. Without the eyewitness testimony it would be based on the police’s judgement which is risky because they could look down on how the suspect looks and so on. So I disagree with the quote shown at the top, the eyewitness testimony definitely has its flaws but until something better comes along its all we have to identify crimes and to find out what happened.…...

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