Eyewitness accounts aren’t as reliable as previously thought

January 26th, 2011 - 1:54 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 26 (ANI): Eyewitnesses likelihood of giving false information about any crime in subsequent retellings increases if they had described the offence to someone just after it occurred, according to a new study.

The finding attains significance as it suggests that eyewitness accounts of crimes can be untrustworthier than earlier believed.

“In a real-life situation, if you”re an eyewitness, the first thing you”re going to do after you witness an event is call 911,” New Scientist magazine quoted lead researcher Jason Chan, a psychologist at Iowa State University in Ames, as saying.

He says that initial recollection may cause a witness” brain to accept a mistaken account, be it from television, lawyers, the police, or another witness.

For their study, Chan and his colleagues tested the memories of 36 university students and 60 retirees, who watched an episode of the television drama 24, wherein terrorists hijack a jet.

Haft of the subjects took a quiz on what they had seen, straight after watching the programme.

About half and hour later, all of the participants were made to hear a short description of the episode, which included details that were either lies or truths.

Statements like the terrorist knocks the flight attendant unconscious were a hypodermic needle were true, while lines like the terrorist knocks the flight attendant unconscious with a chloroform rag were false.

Thereafter, each participant took the same recall test as was administered to just 50 per cent of them. The subjects could leave questions unanswered.

“What we found was completely surprising,” Chan said.

He said that the subjects who had earlier recalled the TV episode got fewer questions right and more wrong than those who had not been previously quizzed.

“If you recall the event earlier, you increase susceptibility to misinformation,” Chan said.

As regards the reason behind the result his team saw, he said that one explanation could like in the fact that testing might be well established as a memory aid in teaching, but not everything people learn is correct. He said that recalling the programmes episode might have reinforced people’s prior misconceptions.

Taking a test, recalling something, actually enhances your ability to learn misinformation, he said.

Another possible reason, Chan said, could be that the act of remembering made a memory malleable and, thus, susceptible to misinformation.

A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Psychological Science. (ANI)

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Health Science |