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Eyewitness Testimony Essay

Keywords: benefits of eyewitness testimony, eyewitness reliability

The use of eyewitness testimony is infamously, the burkha source of information used within the judicial system round the world; however its use has elevated various questions concerning its trustworthiness and validity especially within court docket cases. This article explored to begin with, the biological factors of ram and recollection of memories within the human brain. Memories are believed to be stored and refined within the hippocampus part of the brain where it undergoes the multi-store model (Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968). This is where danger of the stability of storage area occurs. It was argued that eyewitness testimony is a reliable form of facts especially with its validity in conditions of the occasions leading up to the use of EWT; what is deemed important info is thought to be remembered more plainly. Sigmund Freud (1920) advised that memories can only just be retrieved by encouraging remembering past shows and re-instating these 'earlier memories' into their consciousness. Psychologists Nibett and Ross (1980) quoted that the key reason why eyewitness testimony is persuasive is that it affects the jury on a deeper level. However, eyewitness testimony posed more negatives than advantages with the various factors that influence it such as weapons emphasis in incidents relating weapons which cause distractions and lack of memories. The principal psychologist that analyzed the utilization of recollection was Elizabeth Loftus who conducted various experiment to test this, such as the Automobile Destruction test in the 1970's. After having collated all the arguments together, it was suggested that advancements must be produced in order to improve the quality of eyewitness testimony; these included the legal system and authorities force's engagement in collating information as quickly as possible.

The most imperative form of information when looking into a criminal offenses is the credibility of witnesses on trial, the use of eyewitness testimony. Though the use of eyewitness testimony by juries is considered most effective, the question of fallibility of see statements poses various issues and issues. Eyewitness testimony is a thriving aspect of the Felony Justice System, an unbelievable amount of research into this aspect of cognitive psychology questions the trustworthiness of people's storage especially using it as evidence to determine the end result of the trial and convictions. Research into the reliability of proof, also known as "witness psychology" is renowned as being the longest established area of legislation and psychology, seeing back to the start of the 20th century.

The part of eyewitness testimony has always posed issues with reliability and the effectiveness of human memory. Human memory is described by cognitive psychologists Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) as a three stage theory where memory is modelled in, this memory space stage model is named the 'Multi-Store Model'. The Multi-store model theory consists of the storage area being split into three phases, the first level being the sensory store, the next stage is the short-term memory (working memory space) and the third being long-term memory. The transfer of information in one store to some other is managed by the procedure of attention and rehearsal of stories. Perhaps one of the most critical assumptions created by cognitive psychologists is usually that the human mind has a limited capacity for processing information. Therefore, any external information that the environment involves is often very difficult for the real human mind to assimilate and process; so people are selective in what information is to be retrieved and this is normally known as attention, where some information is assimilated while other pieces are dismissed.

The first stage of the multi-store model, the sensory store, is where in fact the information from the senses (iconic, echoic, tactile, olfactory and gustatory), is transferred into but this is only for a very short period of your time. The initial information retrieved by the senses is then transferred into the short-term recollection store; this is transferred through attention directed at the information transferred from the senses involved. When the info has been moved in to the short-term recollection store, this is actually the store worried about forgetting information which information is finally lost totally. Therefore, for information to be continued to be in the memory, from the short term store in to the permanent store, the info must be rehearsed. Rehearsal is the cycling of information through the storage, this rehearsal of memory can be executed in two different methods.

Therefore this article will investigate whether the request of eyewitness testimony claims is a trusted form of proof to be used by the judicial system. Furthermore, this article will claim whether eyewitness testimony is ideal to use as you of the most important pieces of research to use or if the program of eyewitness testimony is fallible. After evaluating for and against the consistency of eyewitness accounts, an analysis will be attracted over how eyewitness testimony can be upgraded to an amount where it could be further correct. This essay will explore the elements of eyewitness testimony and exactly how these factors can determine whether an eyewitness bank account is appropriate. These elements are the effect of weapon focus on witness ram, how leading questions can manipulate witness assertions and recollection of storage area, reconstructive errors of memory and the application of psychological experiments when exploring the function of the elements on the individuals memory. The application of the eyewitness testimony includes multiple formal questioning consultations with witnesses on trial, taking assertions of the situations witnessed and witnesses appearing in court with the jury. The problem of integrity when applying eyewitness testimony accounts is delegated to the jury, who are given the role of determining the judgement of if the eyewitness assertions are fallible or reliable. The use of eyewitness testimony has a profound and powerful effect on the results of an trial and conviction, which is why an accurate eyewitness testimony is needed in order to gain justice.

The Areas of Eyewitness Testimony

As a rsulting consequence the limitations of information processing in the individual mind, witness claims need to be reviewed for reliability and if any external factors of either the surroundings or the function of ram may have damaged the results of the see account. Frequently, when the storage cannot recall the complete incident or situation, it could lead to the undiscovered areas being substituted by events that may never have came about in reality however the mind may understand as a potential occurrence and therefore causes fallibility in the eyewitness testimony. Essentially, the memory may fill in spaces where it does not recall what may have occurred. Many factors have an impact on eyewitness memories that are illustrated below:

Interference of Ram Handling: The time period that has lapsed between the witnessing of the event and the questioning of the eyewitness can determine the amount of information that the witness can recall. Alternatively, interference which is the loss of old stimuli consequently of new information can also subsequently reduce the precision of eyewitness accounts.

Leading Questions in See Interviews: A respected question in its form or content, implies to the see being interviewed what answer is desired or leads those to the required answer. Some questions can often be made more suggestive than others and these questions the legal idea of a leading question. The main pioneer for looking into the results of particular leading questions was Elizabeth F. Loftus in 1974.

Schemas: The human mind has advanced its storage area capacity and the ability to bear in mind certain aspects by organising information into categories, often known as schemas. Schemas help organise memory that can consist of familiar people, things and situations and allow visitors to understand and work correctly to whatever is experienced.

Arousal, Anxiousness and Violence Distraction: Quite often, cognitive psychologists have questioned the poor recall of eyewitness accounts is primarily a result of where their attention is focused upon. A possible reason for arousal, anxiety and assault distraction could be that a violent incident, with the use of weapons, draws the emphasis of the witness's attention away from who is creating this stress and anxiety, which results in little or no handling of other information.

Weapon Focus: When a witness views a offense in which a weapon is utilized as a method of violence and distraction, the weapon achieves its purpose in distracting the interest of those witnessing the criminal offenses. The distraction influences the witness's attention due to the potential risk of assault9.

External Influences: Frequently, external influences make a difference the accuracy of eyewitness accounts, particularly if the advertising has been influencing the situations that took place. The witness may re-interpret their witness statements to match what the advertising has said may have existed or happened. In addition to the media, other exterior influences can include other witness accounts of what happened and/or the sort of environment that the problem may have took place in, e. g. in darkness, low-lit room etc.

Conformity: Through the questioning process that witnesses must put up with, group questioning in particular, offers into reason the reliability of see recollections as they may conform in order to match each other's interpretation of what happened.

Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony

The use of eyewitness testimony has provided important evidence that can often lead to the recognition and arrest of any criminal think or a hazardous event can be avoided. Eyewitness testimony effects strongly after the trial process and the verdicts that receive by the jury are quite often influenced greatly by eyewitness accounts. Stern and Dunning, 1994 quoted that eyewitness testimony could very well be 'the most engaging types of proof presented to police investigations and criminal tests'.

Although the human memory and its information processing capacity, has substantial amounts of limitations that can result in invalidity and inaccuracy, it does however, demonstrate a distinctive capacity to process information where in fact the purchased stimulus information is stored. The real human mind could hold an incredible number of pieces of information, though not all at once, which when acquired by the mind can be reinstated and kept in mind. The stories that your brain deems as important for expansion and use regularly is life are episonic which symbolizes the bout of the memory while certain skill or piece of information; semantic which recognizes what that little bit of information involves and what it is and finally procedural which operations who that information is usually to be used or dealt with. For example, instructing a kid how to learn a reserve at a particular era is episonic, knowing what a e book is, is semantic and how to read what in a booklet would be procedural.

The procedure for information being transferred from the short term memory in to the long term memory was an test conducted by psychologists Welch and Burnett in 1924. The test was to check the theory of the 'serial position curve' where it consisted of the themes being presented with a list of 16 words where that they had to recall to be able. The results of the experiment, illustrated the serial position curve where the recollection of words and the results of the experiment were graphed which illustrated a curve result were the previous recalled words were remembered best whereas what in the middle of the recall were remembered poorly.

Cognitive psychologist, Sigmund Freud thought that memories were allocated in the mind. Freud referred to these stories as "true remembrances" and identified that they place deep in the unconscious factor of the brain, where they lay down undisturbed as one factor of surface mental activity. Freud insisted that these memories were never lost or forgotten because they are "only inaccessible and latent, having become a part of the unconscious". For these memory to be reached, Freud advertised the technique free connection. By stimulating witnesses to reminisce about previous episodes which have occurred within their lives, Freud insinuated that they could reinstate long-forgotten yet important recollections from their former into their awareness. However, it can be argued that the "true memory" that Freud insisted are present in the individuals sub-conscious are in fact potential complicated blendings of both reality and fiction. Memory space is an extremely fragile aspect of the human brain that can potentially be supplemented, improved and reconstructed by external stimuli that can question a meeting that may do not have occurred.

However, it is argued that the human mind is with the capacity of remembering significant pieces of information that is considered vital and important. This is considered one of the key factors in which juries do consider eyewitness testimony accounts as a essential piece of facts. Psychologists Nibett and Ross, 1980 quoted that the reason why eyewitness testimony is persuasive is the fact that "vivid testimonies have a solid impact on observers" which means this conclusively means that they are easier to bear in mind especially after the jury. Though the potential invalidity of eyewitness accounts is comprehensive, error made in see accounts are extraneous when the observers are able to distinguish between correct and inaccurate witnesses. However, there may be a likelihood that the eyewitness accounts is correct but leading questions by the unlawful exploration team may provoke the recollection to be transformed to match the question or the most relevant and appropriate answer.

The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony

The malleability of eyewitness accounts demonstrates the excessive inaccuracy of computer being used as a essential evidential part in the courts and unlawful justice system. Many hypotheses have been set up that suggest reasons for the valued use of eyewitness testimony. Saunders et al believe jurors have a tendency to place too much faith in eyewitness testimonies; however the condition lays with whether eyewitness testimony is a trusted source of evidence to make use of. The inaccuracy of see accounts is exhibited by the various aspects that intercept with each other and substantiate hesitation because of its use as evidence.

The use of leading questions can quite often alter information/intellect or can frequently misinterpreted accounts to complement the information that the witness has been offered. An test conducted by Elizabeth Loftus and John Parmer illustrates the conversation between vocabulary and storage in 1974. The reconstruction of a car destruction contains two experiments where things were shown videos of car accidents. After the observation, the subjects were then asked questions about the situations that happened in the films; "How fast were the autos heading when they smashed into each other?" The use of the word "smash" showed higher estimations in the swiftness of the automobile instead of other verbs found in place of 'smash' such as 'collided, bumped, approached and hit'. If the experiment was repeated seven days later, the topics who received the term 'smashed' were more likely to consent to the question asked "Did you observe any broken cup?" even though there is no recollection of destroyed goblet within the video. These results point out the idea that the questions asked in relation to a meeting can result in a reconstruction of an witness's memory of that event.

Though witness storage area is quite often inaccurate for the reason that they neglect to distinguish the occurrences that had happened, frequently, the human ram can bear in mind erroneous occasions and details that may be introduced by third party interference. In the 1970's, Elizabeth Loftus conducted an test to demonstrate how alternative party interference can invalidate witness accounts by launching false facts. Themes were shown a slideshow of a car at an intersection with the "yield indication" or a "stop signal". The experimenter then asked the individuals questions which falsely used the term "stop sign" rather than "yield signal" which is what was actually shown in the slideshow. The results indicated that subjects remembered seeing the false image; the advantages of wrong cues transformed the memory space of the members in the experiment.

Bartlett conducted an test in which he read a story "The conflict of the spirits" out loud to several members where he figured participants attempted to fit the storyplot into their traditional western schemas and for that reason, distorted it during recall. This demonstrated that they were not recalling the info exactly as it had been provided to them, but were making assumptions at the storyline, based on their own understanding. This correlates with what a witness may assume a legal or crime scene may appear to be and therefore use this to spell it out the suspected. Schemas are an efficient method of digesting and encoding information. The idea of schemas were at first set up by Frederick Bartlett in the 1930s which engaged a large number studies in which he showed ways in which participants made sense of whatever they were shown affects just how they remember it later. For instance, in another of his studies, Bartlett demonstrated participants unfamiliar lines drawings and instructed these to memorise it. Bartlett then asked his individuals to discuss aloud at exactly the same time as memorising the picture. He discovered that different members made sense of the statistics in different ways. Later in the test, the members were asked to draw the characters as they kept in mind them and Bartlett discovered that the schemas that they established throughout their initial encoding inspired their recall. Therefore, schemas may effect what witnesses may define what a criminal looks like or behaves like and this may affect their account of occasions.

Through the questioning process that witnesses must put up with, witnesses can either be questioned over a one-to-one basis where the interviewer questions the witness individually or witnesses can be questioned as an organization if the event has been witnesses by multiple people. Specifically, group questioning gives into reason the reliability of see recollections as they may conform to be able to fit each other's interpretation of what took place. This conformity can purposely invalidate information as the see does not desire to be isolated from the occurrences that the other witness's describe as having occurred. This subjective information again influences the testimony because phony information is being interpreted is invalid anticipated to conformity of information.

The "weapons target" effect perceives to be always a consequence of the witness's attention being predominantly directed on the weapon, leading to diversion of attention away from the situational aspects and the criminal suspect. Whenever a see views a criminal offense in which a weapon is utilized as a method of assault and distraction, the weapon achieves its purpose in distracting the interest of these witnessing the criminal offense. The distraction impacts the witness's attention because of the potential threat of assault. Although an occurrence has occurred, the interest of the witness is primarily upon the weapon so they aren't observing the rest of the incident or the person who's posing the danger and this causes the witness to possess lack of information about the occurrence. This area of eyewitness mindset is known as weapon focus; however this distraction results in an exceedingly poor eyewitness testimony as the see struggles to recall events and descriptions. Sadly, most crimes involve the use of the weapon as a vulnerability tool, which in essence causes the stress and anxiety levels of the witness to rise and for that reason will neglect to encode please remember essential information.

Eyewitness inaccuracy can also be due to errors that take place within the ram process; the ram is split into three distinct stages of processing: encoding, storage area and retrieval. The occurrence of problems is very likely at any particular stage within the memory space processing periods. Acquiring information or otherwise known as encoding is illustrated within the Yerkes-Dodson concept which relating to its theorists, an increase in arousal increases performance up to certain point. Once arousal has passed the critical point which is otherwise known as the optimum, performance tends to drop and these results poorer ram performance. So, in essence when a person is moderately aroused, the information is encoded best instead of extreme arousal or stress where in fact the information is lost or encoded insufficiently. The Yerkes-Dodson theory demonstrates that when a witness observes a offense that is significantly violent and/or makes the witness experience high degrees of anxiety and stress, they are less inclined to remember any significant levels of information due to extreme stress which results in encoding of information inaccurate. This conclusively makes their eyewitness profile unreliable because they fail to remember any large amounts of information and fine detail of what took place and of the perpetrator.

The question of see account accuracy increases questions about whether the time after the incident took place, if the account is still valid as data because quite often, large amounts of energy and substantial disturbance can deteriorate the info from ram. This deterioration refers to the increased loss of stimulus information because of this of handed down time. The amount of time that has lapsed between your occurrence of the function and the questioning and testimony of the see can frequently determines the quantity of information the see can remember. This interference is due to the increased loss of old stimulus information brought on by new stimulus information; this can also reduce the accuracy of eyewitness accounts. People are more likely to overestimate the length of time of brief occasions but on the other side underestimate the length of prolonged events (Penrod, Loftus and Winkler, 1982). Other mental research has showed that the presence of any weapon also reduces the accuracy of eyewitness accounts.

Evaluation of Eyewitness Testimony

Taking into consideration the flaws in which eyewitness accounts may consist of, which effectively invalidates the testimony, these imperfections can be avoided by both the eyewitness and the unlawful justice system that use the accounts as a form of evidence.

Most importantly, the way in which witness accounts are dealt with is vital in establishing a valid eyewitness testimony with all the 'fact' as is possible. The interviewing process which is conducted by the legal justice system i. e. police force, courtroom judges, have to be done in a careful and delicate way so that there surely is no decay or deterioration of information. Though the memory of the witnesses may differ, depending on era and memory space capacity, quite often the original first few time after the incident of an occurrence is vital in collecting all the valid information as possible. So, the interviewing of witnesses should be conducted immediately after the incident when possible to avoid any decay of information and/or third party interference.

In conditions of the real interviewing process, the utilization of leading questions should entirely be averted unless the see has talked about specific events or information which would not invalidate information as it has been confirmed by the see. Leading questions can quite often add new information that the see may well not have known about and can therefore speak about 'bogus' information to be able to fit their account with what is evidently known by the authorities. Specific questions that can be used in the interviewing process may help the witness to run through their an eye on events which in some circumstances show any recollection of events without any external influence.

Quite often through the criminal investigation, the see needs to be interviewed many times to determine the span of happenings and important descriptions, whether this is through the crown prosecution trial or by the authorities. If later eyewitnesses have to be interviewed, they should be able to recall just as much information that they reported primarily, avoiding any extra information that they may have found from alternative party interference. So in essence, there is absolutely no uncertain information but information that your brain has kept in mind and rehearsed of their memory and suggests a good recollection of happenings.

Though no control can be given from what eyewitnesses will concentrate on and concentrate totally on, measures about how information is collected can partially help to differentiate between valid and 'incorrect' information within accounts.


It can be figured the use of eyewitness testimony will also be used as a vital source of evidence by the legal justice system for a long time to come. Eyewitness testimony can take vital bits of information that can't be retrieved from any source, without eyewitness testimony, the authorities would find it incredibly difficult to find any potential clues and proof what happened or description of the particular perpetrator physically looks like. Criminal cases where there is not eyewitnesses to give proof are usually those circumstances which find it incredibly hard to convict the guilty so have to count after other physical data such as CCTV, DNA, fingerprints etc.

However, the utilization of eyewitness accounts appears to create a great deal of hesitation in whether it's a reliable source of evidence to be used because its reliability is questioned predicated on interpretation. The use of leading questions and alternative party interference can decay any original recollection of occasions that the eyewitness may have believed to have happened. However the human storage area has imperfections within itself regardless of additional information that can falsify or invalidate the recollection of what occurred and why.

The primary pioneer of assessing eyewitness facts, Elizabeth F. Loftus highlights the defects of eyewitness accounts and of the human being ram. The conclusions where Loftus has learned were advantageously used to boost quality of interviews and valid eyewitness accounts but regrettably cannot eliminate all invalid information.

So, essentially, the question as to whether eyewitness testimony is a reliable source of facts still remains unclear on the foundation that it is vital research which is needed to collate important info. However, its consistency is questioned in conditions of validity and exactly how much the witness is able to accurately remember all bits of information especially having experienced high amounts of anxiousness and stress. Eyewitness testimony will usually remain a vital source of data but its use should be delicately considered to avoid any fake information or invalid convictions.

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