MEMORY IN LEGAL CONTEXTS: REMEMBERING EVENTS,
CIRCUMSTANCES, AND PEOPLE
-eyewitness testimony: a recollection of the actions, circumstances, and the people
involved by witnesses and/or victims of a crime.
-Crimes involving a single witness or victim, additional material or circumstantial
corroborating evidence are often not available.
-Scientific research on eyewitness testimony draws heavily upon the fields of
cognitive psych. (perception, short and long term memory, thinking, decision making)
and social psych. (influence of social variables upon human behaviour i.e,
conformity, self-presentation, attitudes)
-Variables related to eyewitness testimony: the effects of witness age, time delay
between observation and report, repeated and suggestive questioning procedures,
mental rehearsal, and identification decisions.
-A useful distinction frequently made by researchers in the area of eyewitness
testimony is that between “system” and “estimator” variables
-System variables are those features of the legal system that can alter the reliability of
eyewitness testimony – i.e.: kinds of identification procedures used.
ob/c these features can be controlled, changes can be made to them to improve
the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
-estimator variables refer to the situational and personal characteristics inherent in a
event, its witnesses and consequences
owe have no control and must estimate the magnitude of their effects
oie: a witness’ age is unknown to be related to identification performance, but
the age of witnesses cannot be controlled
oie: the lighting at the scene of a crime is related to accuracy of descriptive
testimony, but its effect upon a single witness can only be estimated.
Basics of Memory and its implications for Eyewitness Testimony
-most judicial systems have developed rules of evidence, whereby the admissibility of
evidence is assessed based in part on its reliability
-How accurate or reliable is eyewitness testimony?
-we must first assume that an event was indeed witnessed and perceived as to its
meaning (encoding stage), and then processed in such a way (storage stage) as to
make it available later through one of several kinds of memory tests (retrieval stage).
important to recognize the possibility of several stages or types of processing b/c
the greater then # of stages and cognitive activities, the greater the opportunities for
error or low reliability.
-Memory is an active process where information is located