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 burly 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.
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