Eyewitness Testimony Not Reliable All the Times

Posted on March 14, 2015

Photo: flickr

Eyewitness testimony might not exactly be reliable, even if the witness believes that he/she is telling the truth.

A witness identifies who a defendant as the perpetrator of a crime can sway a jury in the absence of any physical evidence that that the defendant was actually the one who committed the crime.

In the Palmer studies (1974), participants were asked to watch a short video clip of a car accident. They were asked to judge how fast the cars were moving, but the questions were phrased differently. Ie. How fast were the cars moving when they hit or smashed into each other. Those who heard the question as smashed into each other, thinks that they have seen broken glass into the accident than those who no.
There are two explanations.
1. We remember things, we recreate our memory based on fragments of actual memories from the past. We might make mistakes during reconstruction of memories.
2. We are reminded of the initial situation, however it might be altered, and the revised version could replace our initial memory eventually.

Thus, it is possible to rewrite aspects of our old memories with new information that was acquired after the initial memory was created. When it comes to eyewitness memory, eyewitness might unconsciously or unknowingly recall things that did not actually occurred because it was altered.

The legal system needs to pay close attention to eyewitness testimony as it might not be an accurate reflection of the past after all.

Category(s):Adult psychological development

Source material from Psychology Today