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Posts Tagged ‘Eyewitness Testimony’

There is a very high chance you Confabulated a (false) Memory

November 25th, 2020 No comments

When I was four years old, I accidentally set myself on fire. I vividly remember going up close to a candle and the next thing I knew, the front of my shirt was engulfed in a flame. I then remember screaming for my parents, who emerged from opposite sides of our apartment and managed to put the fire out. However, my mum remembers this story quite differently. Her narration goes, “You were trying to put out the flame of a candle, so you used your shirt to help you. It then caught on fire, and you screamed, so your father and I who were in the same room, ran out together and put the fire out.”

So now the question is, which version is right? While they both contain the same big picture, the smaller details are quite different. Now I’m sure I’m not the first person to argue with my mum over whose version of a story is more accurate, but you would think that with a reasonably traumatic moment like that, both of us would remember it better.

We may have a gut feeling that our version of a story is correct, but it may not be as reliable                                                                                as we believe.

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

November 24th, 2020 No comments

Jennifer Thompson’s life was picture perfect. She was set to graduate college with a perfect GPA and she was well-liked amongst her peers. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Until the night of July 28th, 1984. An attacker broke into her apartment, held her at knife-point, and raped her. Determined not to die that night and for justice to be served, Thompson burned the face of her attacker into her memory so that she could recognize him later. Thompson chose Ronald Cotton as her attacker in two different lineups. Cotton was then sent to prison based primarily on Thompson’s eyewitness identification. Thompson celebrated that night when Cotton was taken away, because justice served that night. The man who committed a heinous crime against her, was in prison, and she had won. However, when DNA evidence was tested 11 years later, Thompson found out that Cotton was innocent and that she was responsible for sending an innocent man to prison. Her attacker was actually a man named Bobby Poole. Later, when Thompson saw Bobby Poole’s face, she did not even recognize him as her attacker.

Cotton (left) and Poole (right). Would you be able to tell the difference?

This is a familiar story of approximately 300 individuals who were sent to jail based primarily on eyewitness identification, only to be exonerated years later with DNA evidence. The Innocence Project works at helping individuals stuck in this situation. In addition to the Innocence Project’s work, we should also be working towards reforming the aspects of the criminal justice system that involves eyewitness testimony processes. 

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Think You Remember Something? It’s Probably Inaccurate.

November 19th, 2020 No comments

The instances of discrepancies between people’s memories of the same event are numerous. I bet that as you read that sentence, you remembered a moment where you fought with a friend or family member about the actualities of a past experience—both of you adamant that your account was correct. However, the likely case is that you are both misremembering some details. The alteration of the details of memory does not matter much in a petty argument, but it matters a great deal in the situation of eyewitness testimony.

Is your truth accurate?

Memories are edited and distorted constantly, resulting in inaccurate remembering. Along with being in place for the storage of your childhood memories and everyday experiences, your memory is also a system to help in making future decisions and drawing on past experiences for the present. The entire memory system is a reconstructive process. By reconstructive, I mean that there are consistent rebuilding and molding of memories after the event. If you think of the details of memory as playdough building blocks, you can envision those details being squished into new shapes and shifted around. As seen in the image to the left, one person’s “truth” may not be the actual truth. Daniel Schachter introduced the concept of the 7 sins of memory (Schacter, Guerin, & St. Jacques, 2011). These sins describe how our memory can “fail” us when we forget things, misremember events, do not encode, or incorporate incorrect information into a memory. 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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