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The reliability of eyewitness testimony

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The reliability of eyewitness testimony

Post by happychick on 15.09.11 8:53



When you look at this picture you see it's Albert Einstein..
But if you stand a few feet away it will become Marilyn Monroe.. Now what do you think of the reliability of eyewitness testimony?
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Re: The reliability of eyewitness testimony

Post by Guest on 15.09.11 8:57

Gosh that's clever; now we know why Jane Tanner wasn't sure if she saw a man or a woman! I'm the first to admit though that I would not be a reliable eye witness either.
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Re: The reliability of eyewitness testimony

Post by Guest on 15.09.11 10:35

I'm currently watching the re-run of The Good Wife, a very good legal drama. The episode I watched yesterday was based on a cop killer, sent down wearing a red sports sweatshirt at the time. The case hinged on one eye witness who swore blind that the man they had in prison was the person who killed this cop. She said she was more than 100% sure it was him. Alicia was asked to review the case for appeal and she realised that another man who did the same thing a few months later, after the other one had been locked up, looked like just this other guy she was acting for. In court she asked for everyone who had one of these red sports sweatshirts to raise their hand, about 80% of the people in court did, including the judge. But what finally clinched it was Alicia's legal team produced two photographs and showed them to this only eye witness. This eye witness still pointed to the man wearing the red sweatshirt, saying something like it is definitely him. Then they told her that they had swapped the faces over and what she was identifying to was just the red sweatshirt and loads of people have one of them, it's the local soccer teams official shirt. She won the appeal and this man was released. But leading up to this, they had an expert in to explain that all caucasian, asian and black people have trouble identifying each others features. As they are not used to identifying with them. In basic terms it meant this white witness got in a muddle over this black guys facial features and all she did was concentrate on the red sweat shirt. what a silly girl.
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Re: The reliability of eyewitness testimony

Post by puzzled on 15.09.11 12:18

Eye witness testimony has long been known to be unreliable. This is taken into account now in court cases. It's just to do with the way you take in information from the outside world. Memory doesn't work like a TV camera, recording everything accurately,to be played back exactly as it happened at some later date. Rather, what happens is assimilated to already existing structures in the mind, which also act as filters, filtering out things which, for some reason or another, can't be processed at that moment. Secondly, the new information interacts with other pieces of information in the mind, giving rise to new structures, and it's even possible for a completely false memory to be created.

It's often worrying how little knowledge of modern academic psychology there is out there, especially among professional people who work with the public and who need to know better. I particularly remember the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the late 80s/early 90s, which was largely being driven by a completely outmoded idea of how memory works. Even by the 80s, it was known that it was not possible for someone to 'record' an event exactly as it happened, completely forget about it, and then recover it (particularly under hypnosis) exactly as it happened with no interference from later experience. It was known that hypnosis was not a valid way to recover memory, and that the whole concept of 'repressed memory' was ill-conceived - the problems people who work with trauma victims have is getting them to forget, not to remember! And it was known that if a therapist asked questions in a certain 'leading' way it was possible to create a false memory in a patient. But social workers, and other people who shoould have known better took no account of this (or possibly didn't know it), and the result was that several innocent families were traumatised. I don't know how much this has to do with the McCann case, but obviously, the police and law enforcement now have to deal with the fact that memory doesn't work like a recording.

EDit: a characteristic of a true memory rather than a false one is that a true memory will tend to be detailed and coherent - a lot of inconsistencies can indicate a false memory - or a lie.

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