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Posts Tagged ‘Eyewitness Testimony’

Are you sure about that? How different lineup presentations affect eyewitness testimony

November 24th, 2020 No comments

Imagine that you find yourself being a stand-in for a police lineup, they called you in because you roughly match the profile of the suspect. Yet you know in your heart that you never committed the crime, you were sitting on your couch at the time that the crime occurred, but nobody could verify your whereabouts. You glance around at the other people in the lineup with you, and you notice that they bear a strange resemblance to you, like a bad photocopy. But you know that there is a possibility that the real suspect, the actual person who committed the crime is somewhere in the lineup. Behind the two way mirror stands a victim, pointing to your face and telling the detectives with earnest that it was you who they saw. Next thing you know, you are locked up in a prison cell in a scratchy uniform with dangerous criminals eyeing you up. For 15 years you maintain innocence and for 15 years you sit and wait for justice to be served. But it never does. You serve your full sentence for the murder of someone that you didn’t even know. 15 years of your life that you will never get back. Your reputation is ruined and there is no going back to the way things were before. False eyewitness identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions, most for major crimes such as murder and rape. And while you may be moping about that the entire criminal justice system failed YOU (and it most certainly did), the actual perpetrator is still walking free! This situation is exactly what Sir William Blackstone warned against in his famous statement that it is “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” – meaning that it is better to focus on finding those who are guilty but not at the expense that an innocent person should go to jail. 

A peep in a simultaneous line-up

The devastating consequences of arresting innocent people and locking them in jail for several years can be exemplified in the case of the Exonerated Five, in which five youth individuals who were African American and Hispanic were imprisoned for aggravated assault and rape of a jogger in Central Park (read more about them here). They served out their sentences before being exonerated when the true perpetrator confessed. Instead of going to high school and being a carefree teen like the rest of individuals in their age group (14-16), the Exonerated Five were sitting in prison for a crime they did not commit. Eyewitness identification did not play a role in this case, but the Exonerated Five exemplifies how harmful wrongful imprisonment is. As it relates to eyewitness identification, when the people in the lineup are a different race than the eyewitness, they are already at a disadvantage. The Own-Race Effect is the phenomenon that occurs when we can recognize people that are of our own race better than people of different races (read more here). This puts BIPOC (black/indigenous/people/of/color) at a higher risk of being misidentified, especially when the rates of black people getting arrested is disproportionately larger than any other raceHundreds of innocent people (a majority of them BIPOC) have been sent to jail for major crimes such as rape and murder on the basis of eyewitness testimony. The Innocence Project works at exonerating people stuck in this situation on the basis of DNA evidence.

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Think You Remember Something? It’s Probably Inaccurate.

November 19th, 2020 No comments

Let’s set the scene. You and your friend are reminiscing over the first time that you met freshman year. With full confidence, you talk about running into her in the spa in line for chicken fingers and then going with her and her friends to the observatory. But she immediately disagrees, explaining that you met in the apartment bathrooms and then went to the spa together. Despite how adamant you may be that your recount of the event is accurate and that you have an excellent memory for those types of things, you are most likely both incorrect.

Fig 1. Arguing over the actualities of an event.

 

Memories are edited and distorted constantly, resulting in inaccurate remembering. Rather than being in place for the storage of your precise childhood memory of learning to ride a bike or your first meeting with your best friend, your memory is a system to help in making future decisions and drawing on past experiences for the present. The entire memory system is a reconstructive process. Daniel Schachter introduced the concept of the 7 sins of memory: suggestibility, transience, bias, blocking, misattribution, absent-mindedness, and persistence (Schacter, Guerin, & St. Jacques, 2011). Each of these “sins” results in distorted memories. When you retrieve a memory, it becomes susceptible to change. 

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It was him! He committed the crime! So I thought….

November 27th, 2019 5 comments

Imagine that you have witnessed a crime where a burglar broke into your neighbor’s home and committed assault on the people present in the home. As the burglar left your neighbor’s house, you catch a quick glimpse of the burglar’s face. You are brought in the following week to choose from a list of suspects who potentially committed the crime. You notice that the suspects are all the same race as the burglar from last week, and to you, these suspects all look the same. As you are examining all the suspects in the room, you believe that suspect #3 committed the crime; Suspect #3 is then taken into custody.

No one is safe from the cross race effect.

You leave the police station thinking that the person you identified was the criminal. Justice has been served to the burglar, and he will pay for his crimes. Without your help, the law enforcement would have never caught the criminal. Well, Surprise! The actual criminal was actually absent from the police station and was never taken in as a suspect. The person responsible for the crime is still out there somewhere roaming the streets as an innocent person How could this be? (If you want to try to see if you can beat the effect, watch this video.)
This phenomenon is known as the cross-race effect, which has been notoriousfor convicting innocent people through both false memories of the description of the person and the failure to recognize other races’ faces. Read more…

I’m a Little Confused on How You Got Here

November 26th, 2019 No comments

Where did I see that from?

One day, a psychologist was brought into the police office and was told being accused of rape. Little did he know that the woman who accused him of rape saw him on television prior to being raped. The woman had confused his face with the face of her attacker. The woman’s memory had failed at being able to differentiate where she saw the two faces. She wasn’t able to distinguish whether she had seen the psychologist face on television or as the attacker (Schacter, 1999). This is an example of a cognitive bias called misattribution of memory.

Let’s take the phrase “misattribution of memory” apart. Misattribute means to incorrectly assign the origin, cause, or source of something. For instance, you remember that someone made great coffee for you. You thought that it was your friend Amy so, you ask her to make it for you again.  However, it turned out that it was actually your friend, Sam. If you add the word memory to it, then misattribution of memory is when one incorrectly assigns the origin, cause or source of a memory. Misattribution of memory is a cognitive bias in which, people can remember what took place or the piece of information. However, they can’t remember where this information came from.

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How reliable was that awesome memory anyways? False memories and how they happen.

April 27th, 2018 3 comments

Have your friends ever enthusiastically asked you if you remembered that time they hit that home run in the bottom of the 9th or told that killer joke in class? Chances are once they’re done describing the event you can totally remember it as well and even remember how much you cheered or how you couldn’t stop laughing. The event feels so real to you now and you can’t believe how you didn’t immediately remember it before, but even though you both remember it so vividly that’s no guarantee that it happened the way you remember.

Do you remember the time you went to college? Do you really?

Hold on one second though, there’s no way your friend didn’t hit that home run to win your baseball game; you can clearly remember how happy you were and how the whole team stormed the plate to congratulate him. This is a great example of a false memory. A false memory is simply a memory that did not actually happen, or happened in a way very differently than remembered. Our memories are not nearly as a accurate as we make them out to be, and unfortunately it is far too easy to misremember an event, or remember something that never happened in this first place.

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Here’s a Suggestion: Don’t Trust Your (False) Memory

April 26th, 2018 2 comments

I want you to think back to a childhood memory. Maybe it’s your third birthday party, the first day of kindergarten, or learning how to ride a bike. Can you remember any details? What you were wearing, who you were with, or how you felt? Now, how accurate do you think those details are? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard different versions of the same story about that day a thousands times by your parents, siblings, or friends. There may also be tons of pictures from the event that you look at from time to time, even now. So that means my memory of the event is pretty accurate, right? Interestingly enough, cognitive psychology tells us that the opposite is true–there are many things that can alter your memory (we’ll get to one of those things in just a bit). This can mean changing minor details, or even creating large portions of a memory that just didn’t happen. This extreme divergence from the truth is called a false memory.

That’s quite the false memory

A false memory is a recollection of an event that is either highly distorted or a complete (unintentional) fabrication. This isn’t about simply forgetting what happened. People with false memories believe that their misconstrued ideas of what occurred are accurate—and often with high confidence, too. So why do we have false memories? How does our brain allow us to have such confidence in the authenticity of events that never actually happened? Despite what you might be thinking, it is not the result of some mind control or hypnotism. So let’s look into how memory works to find out exactly what it is. Read more…

Are you SURE that happened or was that that just a (false) memory?

April 26th, 2018 3 comments

Imagine this. You’re in a convenience store and are getting ready to pay for some delicious Toll-House cookie dough (YUM). Suddenly, a man runs in wearing a mask and brandishing what appears to be a gun, so you decide to quickly hide near the front of the store behind some of the shelves. He demands for the cash in the register and the terrified workers quickly hand over the cash. You are so well hidden that the robber does not realize that there is anybody else in the store, and so as he is on his way out, he quickly removes his mask so that he can better see to escape. For a brief, fleeting couple of seconds, you get a perfect view of the man’s face. A few days later, the cops bring in some pictures of potential suspects to identify, and you are adamant that it was definitely a certain man in the pictures. However, the cops later realize that the man has an air-tight alibi from that day, which means that your identification of the criminal was incorrect. How could this happen?

This would’ve been a less scary robber to identify.

Well, thanks to cognitive psychology, we know that this misidentification probably happened due to the phenomenon called false memory. A false memory is when somebody has either a recollection of an event that did not actually occur, or when somebody remembers an event very differently from how it actually occurred. Essentially, no matter how sure you are that you remembered something correctly, there is a still a chance that you could be wrong. Crazy, right? So, next time you’re promising someone you are remembering some event correctly – just think and wonder how solid this promise actually is! Read more…

There is a monster under your bed, and I have evidence to confirm it.

April 24th, 2018 2 comments

Not all princesses need saving, it has been confirmed. (Image 1)

You are a hero, off on an adventure. Riding on horseback, glorious as you are, you see a dragon in the distance. It is wrapped around a twisting tower and a fair maiden gazes down from the window up above. This is your chance, you know she needs saving, so you ride closer to get a better look. Exactly as you thought, the maiden looks sad, almost wistful, and you know she is dreaming of escaping this terrible beast. With a flash of your sword and the pure strength of your muscles to climb the tower, you kill the beast and finally reach the princess. To your surprise, she does not look pleased. You explain that you have saved her from the terrible dragon which kept her imprisoned, as if this really requires explaining. Astonishingly, she admonishes you! She tells you with great anger that the dragon was her beloved pet and she did not need saving. You look back on the events which occurred and explain to her that she did, in fact, need saving, because she looked so sad and wistful in the tower, clearly longing for sweet escape. Yet, as she soon points out, she was not sad due to imprisonment, but because her “Do Not Feed The Dragon” sign had fell from the castle wall, which you could now clearly see was laying on the lawn in visible sight the entire time. Yet even after she points out this contradictory information, you stick to your guns and tell her she must be delusional from the time she has spent in the tower, and saving her was the only option. So, what caused you to vindicate your decision by addressing only the evidence which made you believe the princess needed rescuing while completely disregarding the clear information which demonstrated otherwise? It is the real monster that needs slaying, and its name is Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias affects our decision making by facilitating our attentional resources towards evidence confirming what we already believe to be true. When one demonstrates prejudice towards a certain outcome or decision prior to gathering all of the information available on this topic, one is inclined to only address the information which confirms their predictions while ignoring conflicting evidence which may hold more gravity. Therefore, confirmation bias results in a disregard for contradictory evidence and reasoning (Jonas et al., 2001). Read more…

Can Sleepiness Affect Your Eyewitness Memory?

November 23rd, 2015 No comments

It’s a given that as college students, we all feel tired from time to time. Well, maybe more than from time to time. Walking across campus, have you ever heard people saying things like “I got two hours of sleep last night,” “I slept terribly last night,” “I’m going to pass out right now,” or something along those lines? I’m sure you have at some point. sleepiness 1

We have all heard that it’s important to get our sleep. This is partly because there has been a lot of research showing that our episodic memory, or memory for specific details and events, is better after a period of sleep. For example, if you were to go out on the town and attend a show, your memory for the details and events of that show would be better the next day if you got eight hours of sleep, as opposed to staying out in the city all night. One reason for this phenomenon is that a function of sleep is consolidation (Diekelmann & Born, 2010), or the neural process by which memories are strengthened and more permanently stored. The more sleep you get, the more consolidation occurs, and the better your memories become.

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Is Recalling Always Good?–The Possible Dangers of Recalling

November 23rd, 2014 3 comments

memory_misconception_survey

The act of recalling–we do it so casually and frequently without much thought; whether it’s recalling questions from an exam when you are discussing with friends questions you couldn’t figure out, or subconsciously remembering what the acquaintance was like while hearing rumors about him/her. Recalling might not be all so good–at least not as much as we might think it is. We don’t usually question the accuracy of the information we take in. However, it turns out to be that the accuracy of information becomes important, especially after the act of recalling (retrieving any information from memory). Through recalling an event, we enhance our ability to take in new information relevant to the event; if the new information is an accurate account of the event, our accuracy on the memory of the event is enhanced, but if the information is misleading or wrong, we take in the misleading information into our memory as well as we do of an accurate event. In the case of discussing an exam question with a friend, if the friend gives you inaccurate information, your possibly accurate prior memory could be “overwritten” with the wrong information your friend just provided. And in the case of hearing a rumor about an acquaintance, you could have a positive memory about the person before, but because of the rumor, which might be right or wrong, your memory could paint a new picture of him/her over the positive image that you used to have. Without being aware, we are making ourselves susceptible to taking in misinformation through just a simple act of recall. This could become very problematic at times; especially in eyewitness testimonies where their account makes a huge impact on what could be decided in court.

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