Sunday, April 7, 2013

Leading Questions and the Eyewitness Report

In this experiment conducted by Elizabeth Loftus, it was questioned whether the questions that are asked immediately after a crime or accident, shape the memory of the event that is then forming?  To answer this question, four experiments were held.  In the first, participants were shown a video of a car accident, and asked either about what the speed of the car was as it ran the stop sign, and the other half were asked about what the speed of the car was as it turned right. In the second experiment, participants were shown a video of a student riot consisting of eight demonstrators.  Half were then asked if the leader of the four demonstrators was male, and the other half were asked if the leader of the twelve demonstrators was male. A week later they were asked a follow up question of how many demonstrators were involved in the riot.  The results of these experiments showed that the questions did affect their recollection of the event they witnessed.  In the first experiment, when their question included the stop sign, they all remembered there being as stop sign, however when only given the phrase "turned right", none recollected seeing a stop sign.  In the second experiment, the participants presented the question containing the number four remembered there being fewer demonstrators than those presented the question containing the number twelve. Two other experiments were also held which resulted in similar results.
These findings show that the way questions are worded can be very influential on a person's memory recollection, which is one of the main points of the Reconstructive Model of Memory.  If not careful, those interviewing a person after a crime could receive a lot of false information, eventually leading to the false prosecution of an innocent person blamed of committing a crime.  It could also be very frustrating for those trying to piece together the crime if they are receiving false information without even realizing they are causing it.  However, can't being given biased questions help jog a person's memory in a good way? For example, when you loose your keys in your house and someone ask you if you left it in your coat pocket, or on the nightstand, or in the laundry room. Having these questions presented to you can help you remember where you actually left the keys, and doesn't necessarily result in false memories of putting the keys in your coat pocket when they are really on the nightstand. In the situation of recalling a crime, a witness may be very anxious or nervous, as they just saw something scary or dangerous, which can get a person's blood and mind to race.  It may be hard to think and therefor they will be more susceptible to persuasion or becoming biased based on a question.  To solve this problem, witnesses could write down everything they remember immediately after the event occurs, and then once they have calmed down, they can be asked questions to elaborate on what they wrote.  This way, they can look back and be less likely to doubt what they saw based on a question, because they have it written down.

No comments: