The US legal system places a lot of importance on eyewitness memory. Most people would report that they can accurately convey what they saw in a particular situation. However, these ideas are not supported by research. Instead, research shows that memory is quite malleable and is affected by many factors. This research repeatedly demonstrates that people do not remember exactly what they experienced. This module’s experiment will show you firsthand how memory for events is not always one hundred percent accurate.
Access the CogLab demonstration False Memory. Follow the instructions to complete the demonstration to familiarize yourself with false memory. Then locate at least one research study from a peer-reviewed journal that examined how eyewitness memory can be affected by false memories.
Based on your research, respond to the following situation:
You are considered to be an expert in false memories, and a local district attorney has therefore requested your expertise on the following case:
On Tuesday, March 6, 2007, a bank was robbed in Slidell, LA. It was just after opening time, 9:04 a.m., and there were barely any customers, when a car arrived and parked in the side parking lot of the bank. Two men came out of the car and walked to the entrance. Both wore dark clothing. Upon entering the bank, they held out guns and asked for the manager. When the manager identified herself, the smaller of the two robbers ordered her to open the safe. Meanwhile, the other robber, a tall, and burley man, walked around holding his gun in his outstretched arm, and threatening the remaining employees and customers. The manager complied and the smaller robber collected all the money and valuables from the safe. After five minutes, the big robber asked if his companion was ready to go. When he was, the two ran back to their car, and drove away.
The district attorney has asked that you create a presentation about false memory and explain how it might influence this case. He asks that you specifically address the following:
- Describe false memory and false memory experiments. Use the CogLab experiment to illustrate false memory experiments, special distracters, and normal distracters.
- Describe at least one research study from a peer-reviewed journal that investigated how eyewitness memory can be affected by false memories.
- Explain how false memory might influence this particular case. Use specifics from the description of the case, the CogLab experiment, and research to support your answer.
- Using evidence from the case, the CogLab experiment, and outside research, justify why eyewitness testimonies should or should not carry weight in criminal proceedings.
- Discuss any procedures which can increase or reduce the occurrence of false memories when reporting eyewitness events.
Remember, your presentation is designed to help the jury understand false memory and how it might influence the eyewitness testimony of this case. You will have ten minutes to present.
Since this is a legal case, you must include formally written slide notes (proper grammar, proper paragraphs, APA formatting, and academic tone) with research to support your claims. The presentation will be a legal document in this case, so make it worthy of being legally binding!
Develop an 5–6-slide presentation in PowerPoint format. Apply APA standards to citation of sources. Use the following file naming convention:
This is the CogLab
An important issue for theories of cognition is how well we remember things. It is important because nearly every aspect of cognition depends on memory to some degree. To understandproblem solving, decision making, attention, and perception, you need to know the abilities and limits of memory. The quality of memory is important for practical reasons as well. Many significant events depend on reports from human observers. From eyewitness testimony in murder trials to arguments with a spouse about who said what, memory and memory accuracy is critical. A surprising finding is that there is no way to assess memory accuracy without objective evidence (such as a tape recording or a photograph). The vividness or confidence of the person recalling the memory is not an accurate indication of the truth of the memory. This is not to say that most memories are inaccurate. We must be pretty accurate much of the time or else living would be quite difficult. However, for those situations in which accuracy of detail is important, memories cannot be trusted, no matter how adamant the recaller is about the vividness of the memory.
This experiment demonstrates one methodology that biases people to recall things that did not occur. The memories associated with experiments of this type are often called false memories. The method was first used by Deese (1959) and has been extended more recently by Roediger and McDermott (1995). The task is like many other memory experiments. A sequence of words is presented (verbally or visually) and the observer must subsequently classify a set of words as either in the sequence (old) or not in the sequence (new).
What differentiates this experiment from other memory experiments is that the sequences are specially designed to bias observers to report a particular word that was not included in the list. When people report that one of these words was in the sequence but it really was not, they are having a false memory. In some cases, people will report that they vividly recall seeing (or hearing) the word, so their memories are very strong, despite their inaccuracy.