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Human Memory

Lesson 17

Human Memory EWT Age and EWT Produced by

Key Terms Eyewitness Testimony (EWT) • EWT can be defined as the evidence given in court or in a police investigation by someone who has witnessed a crime or an accident.

Introduction • When we talk about EWT, we probably usually have adult witnesses in mind. However, in some court cases, often those dealing with sensitive issues such as abuse, quite young children have to act as witnesses. • Psychologists have been interested in finding out if the same factors that affect accuracy in adults also operate in children • Witnesses are sometimes called to identify a criminal in an identity parade and they are often reluctant to make a positive identification.

• Children are found to be more willing than adults to make a positive identification but they are often of the wrong person. • Children also seem to be more susceptible than adults to absorbing post-event information into their original memory representation.

Key Study – Poole and Lindsay (2001) • Poole and Lindsay engaged children aged three to eight in a science demonstration. • The parents of the children then read them a story, which contained some of the elements of the science demonstration but also included novel information. • The children were then questioned about the science demonstration and it was found that they had incorporated much of the new information (i.e. the parents story) into the original memory.

• In another phase of the experiment, the children were asked to think very carefully about where they had got their information from (this is called source monitoring) and some of the older children then revised their account of the science demonstration and extracted the post-event information. • However, the younger children did not seem able to do this. This has important implications for measuring the accuracy of young children’s testimony since they seem poor at source monitoring.

Methodical Issues • This was an experiment but more difficult to eliminate extraneous variables than one using artificial stimuli in a highly controlled laboratory setting. • Investigators have to be particularly careful when using children, particularly those as young as 3 and 4 to make sure they understand instructions and that they are paying attention.

Ethical Issues • There are particular factors to be taken into account when using young children who may not be able to give informed consent but, in this case, it was helpful that the parents were involved as well so the children were familiar with the people and less susceptible to investigator effects.

Conclusion and Supporting Evidence • It seems to be case that EWT becomes less accurate over time and this decline is more apparent in children. • Flin et al.(1992) questioned children and adults one day after an incident and then again five months later. • There were no differences in the amount of accuracy of recall after a day but there was significant forgetting in the children after five months. • This is very important given the long delays that often occur between a crime being committed and subsequent court proceedings.

Conclusion and Supporting Evidence • In a review of child witness research, Gordon et al. (2001) concluded that young children can provide detailed and accurate witness statements, but that they are susceptible to suggestion and their accounts should be viewed with caution. • Davies (1994), however, believes that some of the differences between child and adult witnesses have been overstated and that the children can provide valuable testimony provided care is taken in the interviewing process.

Cognitive Psychology - Eyewitness Testimony and Age