Eyewitness memory is a very delicate and interesting thing. An individual that is an eyewitness has a first-hand account of an event that occurred. However, when they try to remember and give an account of the event no one knows whether it is true or not because, other eyewitnesses may have a completely different memory of the event. Even though these individuals may have been standing right beside each other they combine details from past memories with the current event. Combining these details from memories is how eyewitnesses obtain their false memory.
Also being put under stress can affect an individual’s memory, or certain aspects of the event can unconsciously stand out to the person and that is all their brain focuses on. Eyewitness accounts are important and used by the police and judicial branch to help solve cases and possibly convict individuals for crimes; however, they are not a concrete and reliable source. When someone is an eyewitness they have observed an event or series of events, and are able to recall details from the situation.
Eyewitnesses are used in police investigations to obtain information, and by the judicial branch to testify in court nd decide if the accused is guilty. These testimonies may seem like they would solve a lot of cases and be helpful, but in reality they are not very useful. The individual is not going to have a very accurate description of who or what they saw, because their memory has most likely already been unintentionally or intentionally influenced and altered, Eyewitness memory can be altered from stress, the individual’s brain may have only focused on a certain aspect that stood out to them, or they could have obtained false memory.
Eye witnesses are usually put under a lot of stress and have intense emotions as they are witnessing or being the victim of a crime. The more stress and emotions that are present the more the eyewitness;s attention becomes concentrated and fixed. As a result, the individual’s memory of specific details is much better than memory of peripheral details. Stress can increase anxiety and blur details which also makes it more difficult for the eyewitness to remember details that were very obvious when they were at the scene and everything was present.
The color of a car the description of the accused, how many people there were, etc. may have been right in front of the eyewitness. However, after it is all over they are not capable of distinguishing most deaths from memory or at all or asa well as they would be when present because even “Under the best of observation conditions, the absolute best, we only detect, encode, and store in our brains bits and pieces of the entire experience in front of us.
And they’re stored in different parts of the brain so it is impossible for us to recall what it was that we experienced, we have an incomplete, a partial story. ” (tedx talk). Different aspects of an event will stand out to an individual’s brain, so when these certain aspects are the things their brain focuses on other details become less important. The less important the detail seems the more likely it is that the vidual will forget about it.
The details that are not being focused on end up being filled in by the way someone asks the observer a question, and details that were given to them after he event was over. An individual can confuse information then fill in the gaps with other memories, such as a case where a woman was raped, and when she was asked to identify the man she picked out the man that she saw on the television when it happened rather than the actual perpetrator. The woman did not chose the wrong man on purpose, her mind just combined multiple memories and started filling in the blanks causing a reconstructed memory. False memory is “a fabricated or distorted recollection of an event…
People can feel completely confident that their memory is accurate, but this confidence is no guarantee that a particular memory is correct. ” (verywell. com). False memory is very easy to obtain, because “memory is a reconstruction not a record. ” (visualexpert. com). Even individuals with excellent memory are prone to obtain false memory. Therefor, as people are handed information about an event they supposedly remember, the new information whether it is true or not will cause the eyewitness to change their story by adding and taking away details.
Eyewitnesses talking to other eyewitnesses will cause this changing of memory, because they unknowingly start to combine their memories and make one large story which lacks true details. Also when an eyewitness is asked specific questions about different details they might not have focused on rather than saying they do not remember the eyewitness’s mind will fill in those blanks with a false, reconstructed memory that seems real but was not originally there. False memory does not only occur in the event of an eyewitness giving a statement, it happens to everyone on a day to day basis.
So this memory could be harmless like thinking we put a jacket in the car when we in fact left it at someone else’s house. Or it could lead to something as extreme and harmful as an innocent individual being incarcerated. There always have been and always will be tons of police investigations, and court cases that are solely bases on the account of an eyewitness, and this has led to many people being convicted and stuck in jail for years for a crime they did not commit. The eyewitness obtains false memory and the memory seems so real and accurate that when they testify they are one-hundred percent confident that they are telling the truth.
There have been many studies done on false memory, and researchers have even found that a false memory can intentionally be put in someone’s mimd like “In one famous experiment carried out in 1994, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus was able to get 25 percent of her participants to belie a false memory that they were lost in a mall as a child. ” (verywell. com). Those participants never actually got lost in a mall as a child, but through psychotherapy they not only received but obtained this false memory. The eyewitness memory of a child is no different.
In fact, “Until the age of eight of nine, most people do not have a sense of memory that is developed enough to reliably recall more than the bare outline of events, particularly stressful ones, the review concludes. ” (National Geographic). So not only is the child being affected by reconstructed memories and stress like teenagers and adults, but they barely have an understanding of the outline of what they just witnessed and experienced. If the event was stressful or traumatic, many people (that are not memory experts) believe that the stress and intense emotions will make it easier for the eyewitness to recall details.
Even if it is years from when the actual event occurred they believe that the eye witness can recover those details; however many psychologists have found that “Overall, the fact that an event was stressful or traumatic is not a good predictor of a child’s subsequent memory for that event. ” (National Geographic). Psychologists have found that eyewitness memories and testimonies are not very accurate; however, there is no test to tell whether the memory of the individual is actually real and accurate. Therefor eyewitness accounts are still used when the stakes are high in places such as court rooms, or police investigations and interviews.
Juries will believe an eyewitness if the individual is confident in their testimony, and since eyewitnesses do not realize their testimony is filled with reconstructed aspects of the event they witnessed. When an eyewitness is asked questions in a certain tone or with a specific choice of words their memory is far more prone to important details on the serious incident, therefor leaving these peripheral details to the side which allows the mind to alter them or for an outside source to influence the memory.
Stress is one of the main outside sources that can have a major influence and impact on your focus and memory. However; there are also lots of other outside sources that can have an effect such as anxiety, intense emotions, other eyewitnesses, police interviews/other people in general, and past memories. Other individuals will give the eyewitness memories that are false and reconstruct eyewitness’s current recollection of the event, sometimes giving the eyewitness ideas of what is true is accidental but other times it will be an intentional action.
When it is intentional the individual is feeding the eyewitness information. This is information that is most likely peripheral details and the individual misleading the eyewitness is most likely being suggestive through their word choice when asking a question, or bringing up something other eyewitnesses may or may not have seen. Either way an eyewitness is not going to have specific, accurate details that they should be allowed to go to the police or go one trial and testify with. The memory of an eyewitness is very delicate and most of the time can be misleading.