Eyewitness Testimony Study of Perception and Memory Term Paper

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Eyewitness Testimony, etc.

In a Psychology Today article in 2001, Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D. And William Calvin, Ph.D. discussed what was then known about memory, and what was yet to be discovered. Loftus has written 18 books, one of which is titled Eyewitness Testimony. Loftus and Calvin noted that concern with memory and its imperfections dates to long before the period of modern jurisprudence, although -- in the aftermath of overturned murder convictions that had been based on eyewitness testimony -- memory has again become a hot issue. "Medieval and modern philosophical accounts of human cognition stressed the role of imagination. The 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant talked about imagination as the faculty for putting together various mental representations such as sense percepts, images, and concepts" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). As long as 1885, the first experiments concerning memory were published, by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. Since then, much has been learned.

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Among the surprising bits of knowledge, probably unfamiliar to the layman, is that the human brain is cluttered, unlike the "pigeonhole" data docks in a computer's RAM. Calvin noted that when a person loses a thought or memory, it often pops up an hour later; it had been lurking just below consciousness all the time. "The serious difference between computer and human memory is that we don't pop out a pristine copy of the original event, the way a computer does. Instead, we reconstruct things as best we can from all the clutter. We guess. Often that isn't good enough, especially for a fair judicial process" (Memory's Future, 2001, p. 55).

Term Paper on Eyewitness Testimony Study of Perception and Memory Assignment

The judicial process, about twenty to twenty-five years ago, was dependent on "eyewitness" testimony in a number of high-profile cases, many of them involving supposed child abuse by caretakers of every sort. Loftus notes that then, eyewitness fallibility and the inaccuracy of "recovered" memories was not known (Memory's Future, 2001). Indeed, the effect of this attitude toward memory was dramatic as " 'Repressed memory therapists' went out and prospected for early childhood memories of trauma. 'Are you sure you weren't abused?'" (Memory's Future, 2001, p. 55).

Loftus and Calvin assert that those pro-active seekers for 'truth' "inadvertently created false memories of the worse sort in some of their clients" (Memory's Future, 2001, p. 55) and that the aggressive conduct of these professionals led patients to false memories of child molestation, and many of those led to arrest, conviction and incarceration of innocent people.

Loftus and Calvin reach the conclusion that in these days of inexpensive electronics, it would be far better for justice to virtually dispense with eyewitness testimony in favor of video. "A publicly supported surveillance trend began in Britain nearly 20 years ago. They installed 60 remote-controlled video cameras at various 'trouble spots.' Where they put them, crime dropped by half" (Memory's Future, 2001, p. 55).

In recent weeks, those cameras have also been instrumental in identifying those responsible for the London bombings.

In a more academic paper less than a year later, Loftus suggested, regarding eyewitness testimony, that there might be a better concept to use when dealing with it. She wrote:

In light of what I have learned about human memory, I propose a more realistic alternative: 'Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, or whatever it is you think you remember?' (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

Indeed, other research seems to support that unique viewpoint.

Photographic accuracy

Loftus and Calvin both asserted that memory is at least as much invention as recording, making it, therefore, notoriously unreliable as an 'expert' device in any criminal case.

To prove it, psychologist Craig Barclay conducted a test with graduate students at the University of Michigan. "Barclay's major thesis is that people do not reproduce the past, they reconstruct it in accord with 'self theories' of how they are likely to act" (Rubin, 1985, September, p. 38+). The experiment involved the students writing down three events each day for four months and recalling them later; however, their own accounts were interspersed with accounts by others. What Barclay concluded was that "We convey in precise and honest terms a plausible and consistent record of our own intentions and actions, but this record need not be, and in fact cannot be, complete and accurate. Our autobiographical memories reflect not only our past but also our personalities and beliefs about ourselves" (Rubin, 1985, September, p. 38+). He notes that this is useful for psychotherapists, and a lot less useful for jurisprudence. Moreover, Rubin concluded from Barclay's work, "People are more likely to accept a false description as the resemblance between the false and original descriptions increases and as time passes" (Rubin, 1985, September, p. 38+).

Other cogent findings vis-a-vis eyewitness testimony is that an individual's state when in the process of remembering can alter the memory itself; likewise the memory can change the individual; clearly, this could be a spiraling process that brings the 'rememberer' farther and farther away from actual events, an unfortunate possibility in terms of eyewitness testimony.

Another sobering possibility is that of undiagnosed disorders that can impair memory even beyond the normal range of alteration. Two researchers in England, Alan Baddeley in Cambridge and Barbara Wilson at Oxford, studied this and found that some amnesiacs who were relatively normal in functioning day-to-day also, if they had sustained frontal lobe damage, "falsely remembered events" suggesting that they could not properly use memory retrieval mechanisms available to normal individuals (Rubin, 1985, September, p. 38+). So stunning is this possibility that Baddeley and Wilson reported the case of one person who reported clear memories concerning the death of a brother who had never existed (Rubin, 1985, September).

False convictions

The year 2002 saw "the release of the 100th person nationwide to be freed from prison after genetic testing" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). She also noted that:

Larry Mayes of Indiana, now 52 years old, spent 21 years in prison for a rape of a gas station cashier. The victim had failed to identify him in two separate lineups and picked him out only after she was hypnotized by police. Mayes' story is a common one; analyses of these DNA exoneration cases reveal that faulty eyewitness memory is the major cause of wrongful convictions (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

The 1990s were, in fact, rife with cases that captured public attention because of their subject matter, often "impossible memory claims" including intergenerational satanic ritual abuse or memories of having been molested at the age of six months (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). From the standpoint of psychology, the cases were suspect, possibly even then. From the standpoint of jurisprudence, such cases lead to the possibility that prosecutors simply had a lust for convictions at any cost. "The cases proceeded under the belief that when people are repeatedly brutalized, their memories can be completely repressed into the unconscious and later reliably recovered with hypnosis, dream interpretation, sodium amytal, or other therapeutic 'memory work.' In fact, no credible scientific support has been found for such claims" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

Another high-profile eyewitness standard from the 1990s was the "repressed" memory. One famous case involved an Arizona pediatrician, John Danforth, whose former patient, Kim Logerquist, remembered after an interlude lasting two decades that the doctor had repeatedly molested her for a period of two years, from the time Logerquist was eight until she was 10. Logerquist wanted $3 to $5 million in damages, claiming that the flashbacks that gave rise to her claim were triggered by watching a children's aspirin ad. During the period leading up to her accusation, Logerquist has spent 57 sessions of analysis during which she was "urged to try to remember abuse that might explain her problems such as self-mutilation, depression, suicide attempts, obesity and bulimia" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

It took ten years for Danforth to clear his name, although it took the jury only 40 minutes to find against Logerquist, who had also spent time considering which other men she had known might also have abused her.

Loftus calls this a "landmark repressed-memory case" and notes that it might have helped take the wind out of the sails of such eyewitness testimony (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

The problem for those who would profit from such eyewitness testimony, however, seemed to be, after the Danforth exoneration, that the accused was alive and would therefore defend himself. Clever accusers then began claiming abuse took case in a "McDonald's bathroom or on a Royal Caribbean cruise or in the high school art room" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+) -- and that since that event, the accused had since died. The accuser then sued the estate with a fair degree of success. "Even a well-funded corporation has a difficult time defending against supposedly repressed memories about events that purportedly happened 30, 40, or 50 years ago" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

Worse, yet, the issue of planted suggestion is inherent in all repressed memory 'eyewitness' accounts. "Psychological studies have shown that it is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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