How reliable are eyewitness accounts, whose testimony is crucial to the outcome of many criminal trials? They can be easily confused, researchers say.
For example, if someone witnesses a man in a blue pullover stealing something, then overhears people refer to a grey shirt, how likely is it that the eyewitness will remember the actual colour of the thief’s pullover?
Studies have shown that when people are imparted false information about an event, they become less likely to remember what actually happened – it is easy to mix up the real facts with fake ones.
However, there is evidence that when people are forced to recall what they witnessed (shortly after the event), they are more likely to remember details of what really happened.
Psychologists Jason Chan of Iowa State University, Ayanna Thomas from Tufts University and John Bulevich from Rhode Island College wanted to see how providing false information following a recall test would affect volunteers’ memories of an event that they witnessed.
A group of volunteers watched the first episode of “24” and then either took an immediate recall test about the show or played a game. Next, all of the subjects were told false information about the episode they had seen and then took a final memory test about the show, said an Iowa State release.
The results were surprising. The researchers found that the volunteers who took the test immediately after watching the show were almost twice as likely to recall false information compared to the volunteers who played the game following the episode.
The results were published in the January issue of Psychological Science.