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Eyewitness Testimony is inherently faulty

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posted on Aug, 9 2009 @ 07:35 AM
Eyewitness testimony..... I have seen more than a few times someone trying to push the factuality of their case on these forums using eyewitness testimony as if it was fact. This is what the experts have to say about that:

The effect of stress on eyewitness recall is one of the most widely misunderstood of the factors commonly at play in a crime witness scenario.

Studies have consistently shown that the presence of stress has a dramatically negative impact on the accuracy of eyewitness memory, a phenomenon which is often not appreciated by witnesses themselves.

In a seminal study on this topic, Yale psychiatrist Charles Morgan and a team of researchers tested the ability of trained, military survival school students to identify their interrogators following low- and high-stress scenarios. In each condition, subjects were face-to-face with an interrogator for 40 minutes in a well-lit room. The following day, each participant was asked to select his or her interrogator out of either a live or photo lineup. In the case of the photo spread – the most common form of police lineup in the U.S. – those subjected to the high-stress scenario falsely identified someone other than the interrogator in 68% of cases, compared to only 12% from the low-stress scenario.


Studies have shown, for example, that if the police who conduct the identification procedures have knowledge of the case and its suspect, they will inevitably influence the eyewitness's memory of the perpetrator in the direction of identifying the suspect. A "double blind" investigation, where both the interrogator and the witness are unaware of the facts of the investigation or the identity of the suspect, is far more likely to produce a reliable identification.

Yale Law School:Eyewitness Testimony Doesn't Make It True--A Commentary by Steven B. Duke

The acquisition of information into memory involves a three-step process. At each stage of the process, errors are possible. During acquisition, the first step in the memory process, an event is perceived and information "bits" are initially stored in memory.
In the second stage, information is held or retained in memory. In the final stage, memory is searched and pertinent information is retrieved and communicated. In the acquisition stage, information is "encoded" into a person's memory system. However, every detail of an experience is not encoded; the human mind can only process a fraction of the rapidly incoming physical stimuli. Both consciously and unconsciously, the observer determines which details are actually encoded according to where his or her attention is focused.
The physical aspects of an event are obviously compromised by the selective nature of the acquisition stage of memory. However, matters are further complicated by the fact that acquisition also involves a social component. Thus, a witness' ability to perceive accurately is affected by both event factors—those inherent to the event itself—and witness factors—those inherent to the witness. EXPERTS ON THE UNRELIABILITY OF EYEWITNESSES

Several studies have been conducted on human memory and on subjects’ propensity to remember erroneously events and details that did not occur. Elizabeth Loftus performed experiments in the mid-seventies demonstrating the effect of a third party’s introducing false facts into memory.4 Subjects were shown a slide of a car at an intersection with either a yield sign or a stop sign. Experimenters asked participants questions, falsely introducing the term "stop sign" into the question instead of referring to the yield sign participants had actually seen. Similarly, experimenters falsely substituted the term "yield sign" in questions directed to participants who had actually seen the stop sign slide. The results indicated that subjects remembered seeing the false image. In the initial part of the experiment, subjects also viewed a slide showing a car accident. Some subjects were later asked how fast the cars were traveling when they "hit" each other, others were asked how fast the cars were traveling when they "smashed" into each other. Those subjects questioned using the word "smashed" were more likely to report having seen broken glass in the original slide. The introduction of false cues altered participants’ memories.

SOURCE:Stanford University:The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony

"Contrary to the popular conception that most people would never forget the face of a clearly seen individual who had physically confronted them and threatened them for more than 30 minutes, a large number of subjects in this study were unable to correctly identify their perpetrator," said Charles Morgan III, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

The study included 509 active duty military personnel enrolled in survival school training. The types of stress were modeled after experiences of military personnel who had been prisoners of war (POWs) -- food and sleep deprivation for 48 hours followed by interrogation.

There were two instructors in the room, a "guard" and an "interrogator." The high stress interrogation included physical confrontation. During the low stress interrogation, the interrogator tried to trick the subject into giving away information.

Twenty-four hours after being released from the mock POW camp, the military personnel were asked to identify the interrogator and guard in a live line up, a photo spread, and a sequential photo presentation. Regardless of the presentation, recognition was better during the low stress rather than the high stress condition. In some cases, those interrogated confused even the gender of the guard and/or interrogator.

"The present data have a number of implications for law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, physicians, attorneys and judges," Morgan said. "All professionals would do well to remember that a large number of healthy individuals may not be able to correctly identify suspects associated with highly stressful, compared to moderately stressful, events."

SOURCE:ScienceDaily:Eyewitness Memory Poor In Highly Intense And Stressful Situations

The latest form of evidence to come under scrutiny is eyewitness testimony. Psychologists have long known about the fallibility of human memory. As far back as 1971, England’s Criminal Law Review Committee warned that over-reliance on eyewitness testimony could lead to false convictions. Going back even to the 1800s, famed psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s memory research established the “Forgetting Curve,” which plots how human recollection fades over time, beginning within minutes of the creation of a memory.
Nevertheless, eyewitness testimony remains a vital part of the criminal justice system, and with good reason. It’s the most abundant form of evidence, and it would be nearly impossible to convict guilty people without it. The problem is that it has for far too long been used irresponsibly, without instituting proper controls to ensure that eyewitnesses aren’t prodded into false recollections, that jurors aren’t permitted to give eyewitnesses more weight than good science allows, and that jurors are made aware of the limits and fallibility of human memory.

College Textbooks on the subject:
Psychology Themes and Variations:Encoding Getting Information Into Memory

Introduction to applied cognitive psychology:The Falliability of Eyewitness Testimony

Handbook for teaching introductory psychology:Using a videotape to Demonstrate the Falliability of Eyewitness Testimony

posted on Aug, 15 2009 @ 11:25 PM
Great thread topic. I have been thinking along these line increasingly as I read things like UFO sightings, 9/11 witnessing, etc.

People's ability to blend what they imagine with what they remember, cultural cues, susceptibility to prompting and expectations, all shape recall.

An event not comprehended to an early 19th Century person might be religious experience, in the early 20th Century it might be a ghost. Today it would be a UFO encounter.

With the inception of DNA and the re-examination of old court cases and surviving evidence we now know hundreds of people were convicted wrongly, some executed, based on what was considered credible evidence consisting of reliable eyewitness testimony.

More on this from others, I hope.


posted on Aug, 15 2009 @ 11:29 PM
reply to post by mmiichael

Just goes to show you just how little one can be certain at the very basis of our experience *our perception and memory* huh? It can also be used to decide something didn't happen after all.

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 12:15 AM
Good topic, and well presented.

We can only be half-attentive to something, and then suddenly things change, and Boom! We're now watching intently and attentively, but under sudden stress. This releases a variety of hormones and chemicals, and the sudden rush can inevitably change our perceptions, and effect our recall later.

I have experienced this personally, and I think anyone who is willing to admit it, will remember a time when their recall was..not quite perfect, and it is disconcerting when you've realize you've made a mistake, no matter how honest it was. You know? We've all learned to trust our brains, and our perceptions. But the stress is like, a sudden interference.

But I'm glad this is brought to light, especially in cases where only eye-witness accounts provide evidence. It's good, in this sense, that there are so many cameras around now, ie law enforcment vehicles, gas stations, etc.

Good subject, and great infomation. S&F.

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 12:33 AM
This is a really important topic and I'll probably say more when I'm less burnt out. One of those days.

Some interesting threads touch on all this. One on how there seems to be a very positive correlation between alien abductions and suppressed memories of childhood abuse. I always wondered why those technological advanced intelligences beings traveled light years to just to do anal probes on overweight middle-aged American file clerks.

Another thread goes into a thesis that UFOs are a subject better explored as extended folklore than scientific investigation.

Our interpretations go beyond Rorschach type image pattern perception. We have a few pieces of a puzzle and make up a story that satisfies our needs. Culture, life experience, expectations supply the templates.

A good book on UFOs, I think called "Watch the Skies", elaborates how ETs and their spaceships have conformed to what the Science Fiction mags an movies prepared us for how they look. We went from klunky gas guzzler fats ships in the 50s with little green men, to the Whitley Streiber cover and Close Encounters skinny little guy with a oversized head and those disturbing insect-like black eyes. The spaceships are sleeker and more aerodynamic.

More anon.


posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 12:53 AM
exellent thread and a welcome break from the norm.

although this is not a new topic for me personally as i (MAY lol) have had to deal with a couple of eyewitness scenarios (please keep in mind i may have made up that last sentence.) when i was younger and not as bright.

your thread really made me think. thats all i'll say for right now.

eyewitness testimony would rule all forms of evidence if but one simple thing be eliminated.....

any event is relative to the being who is watching, or, envolved.
i mean, if i do not believe in something yet i see it happen, i will mold what was seen to allow for easier time swallowing the new info

i tend to be long winded when i'm

[edit on 16-8-2009 by anonamousantichrist]

[edit on 16-8-2009 by anonamousantichrist]

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 01:18 AM
reply to post by anonamousantichrist

Or, offset events you witness that you are convinced cannot happen. It seems to me that memory distortion can go both ways.

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 01:19 AM
reply to post by ladyinwaiting

I can think of a gazillion times I remembered incorrectly.

[edit on 16-8-2009 by Watcher-In-The-Shadows]

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 02:40 PM
Me, too Watcher.... I just didn't want to admit it.

I am actually a little disappointed that this thread hasn't received more attention than it has. It is extremely well written and makes a case we should all be aware of.

One of the most surprising things in the Stanford study, I think it was, they actually threatened participants for 30 minutes, face to face, 30 minutes! That's forever in a circumstance like that. And still, the participants were unable to make a positive identification.

At this rate, eye witness accounts will be perceived as rather meaningless. I guess this has it good points, and also bad especially for those who are able to make a positive identification.

Defense attorney's can go wild with this type information/studies, and could essentially render an eye witnesses testimony moot.

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 05:42 PM
Interesting stuff came out of 9/11. All testimony was recorded and documented.

One stat I remember from Conspiracy Land info is how 6 people claimed they saw a missile, not a plane, hit the Pentagon. Something you'd remember?

Conflicting with that is 400 other eyewitnesses did see a plane.

So the 6 who saw something else - what's the story? Poor vision, incredulity, suggestibility after hearing other stories?


posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 06:05 PM
reply to post by ladyinwaiting

Well, I think the reason is largely because it brings a rather uncomfortable and inconvient fact into view. If even our memories are falliable what would it do to a great number of things talked about on this forum? Much less to the numbers of people that claim to know this or that for a fact due to remembered personal experience?

[edit on 16-8-2009 by Watcher-In-The-Shadows]

posted on Aug, 16 2009 @ 06:06 PM
reply to post by mmiichael

I am sure it's most likely a mixture of all of those things. And somethings you left out.

posted on Aug, 18 2009 @ 02:38 AM
For anyone interested in cognitive psychology here is a free course:
Cognitive Science C102, 001, Psychology C129, 001 - Scientific Approaches to Consciousness

posted on Aug, 18 2009 @ 04:26 AM
reply to post by Watcher-In-The-Shadows

cheers watcher!

thank you for that link. although, in the past i have always been disappointed by attempts to scientifically study consciousness as most seem designed to fail.

100% of me believes that TPTB fear this more than anything. if we truly understood consciousness, it's essence, and how to use it, we would quickly rise up galactic the pecking order (for lack of a better phrase) and sit side by side with the most advanced of beings.

after all, how can one escape from a prison that has no fence/bars/doors/barriers?

i too am kind of dumbfounded by the lack of interest in this thread. i guess it just shows the level of fear involved when trusted, supposed time honored methods fail. especially, something as rock solid as being a "eye witness" to a major event.......

i wish i could flag this thread again lol


[edit on 18-8-2009 by anonamousantichrist]

[edit on 18-8-2009 by anonamousantichrist]

posted on Aug, 18 2009 @ 11:22 AM
Something I've related elsewhere, a book I read sometime in the 90s - don't recall the title now - showed results of studies of people's memories and accounts over long periods. The case that stuck in my mind was part of an examination of accounts of eyewitnesses to President Lincoln's assassination in a theater by John Wilkes Booth.

One gentleman, who was in attendance in a wheelchair, initially said he only heard the shot and caught a glimpse of Booth running down the aisle. Years later, as he was asked about it by reporters and historians, his story grew. 40 years later he was telling how he actually grappled with booth attempting to prevent him from escaping.

The book noted how people tend to increasingly involve themselves in important events on subsequent questionings. Stories amplify as time passes.

From this we can infer how accurate news accounts and a lot of historical testimony really is.


posted on Aug, 18 2009 @ 11:39 AM
What makes people reliable as eyewitnesses? It's an interesting topic. I remember reading that studies have shown even those trained to record detailed information, such as police officers, are no better in practice than college students. This is worrying especially considering, in the UK at least, a police officer's word holds more weight than a citizen's because of their special training. The question for me being; should their word hold more weight in light of said studies.

I'll look for some sources for these studies, the article was in New Scientist magazine of that I'm sure.

posted on Aug, 25 2009 @ 12:02 PM
reply to post by CuriosityStrikes

No I don't think their word should be. It's all hearsay at the end of the day.

posted on Oct, 1 2009 @ 03:26 AM
More supporting information:

Stress and Memory

Chronic over-secretion of stress hormones adversely affects brain function, especially memory. Too much cortisol can prevent the brain from laying down a new memory, or from accessing already existing memories.

The renowned brain researcher, Robert M. Sapolsky, has shown that sustained stress can damage the hippocampus , the part of the limbic brain which is central to learning and memory. The culprits are "glucocorticoids," a class of steroid hormones secreted from the adrenal glands during stress. They are more commonly know as corticosteroids or cortisol .

During a perceived threat, the adrenal glands immediately release adrenalin. If the threat is severe or still persists after a couple of minutes, the adrenals then release cortisol. Once in the brain cortisol remains much longer than adrenalin, where it continues to affect brain cells.

Cortisol Affects Memory Formation and Retrieval

Have you ever forgotten something during a stressful situation that you should have remembered? Cortisol also interferes with the function of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.
Excessive cortisol can make it difficult to think or retrieve long-term memories. That's why people get befuddled and confused in a severe crisis. Their mind goes blank because "the lines are down." They can't remember where the fire exit is, for example.

BRAIN connections that encourage the formation of false memories have been identified. Such memories appear to be more likely in people with high-quality links between neurons in a particular brain area.

Individuals often recall the same events differently or report memories of things they should have been too young to recall. To find out if a tendency to manufacture false memories is reflected in brain structure, Lluis Fuentemilla at the University of Barcelona in Spain and colleagues induced them in 48 students in the lab.
Unfortunately you'll need a subscription to see it all.

Stress makes people much more likely to create false memories, say American researchers. It also appears to make them more certain that these false memories are correct.

The results could help explain why crime witnesses give conflicting evidence or pick the wrong man in a line up, the researchers say. But they do not account for "reconstructed memories" of childhood abuse.

Psychology student Jessica Payne of the University of Arizona, Tucson and colleagues read to 66 college students a list of 20 words. All related to sleep, such as "bed", "rest", "tired" and so on.

When asked a few minutes later if they heard the word "hat", they nearly always say no. But when asked if "sleep" was on the list, 60 per cent say yes, even though it wasn't.

Such false memories have been demonstrated before. "We wanted to know if stress would increase the rate of false memories," says Payne.

So the researchers then repeated the experiment. But before taking the test, half the students had to give an impromptu presentation under glaring light with a video camera rolling. "It was very stressful," says Payne.

The stressed group thought "sleep" was on the list nearly 80 per cent of the time. They did not pick unrelated words like "chair" as being on the list any more often then the relaxed controls.

Even more surprising was how fast the stressed students clicked the "yes" button, says Payne. Unstressed subjects usually took a tenth of a second longer before saying yes to "sleep". "It's as if they weren't quite sure," she says.

But stressed students clicked yes equally fast for all their answers, as if they were just as sure of the false memory as of the real ones.

Stress hormone
The hippocampus, a brain structure needed to form new memories, is riddled with receptors for the stress hormone cortisol. Payne believes cortisol may cause the effect by suppressing the hippocampus.

The thematic nature of the false memories suggests people might tend to let stored associations influence their recall of a stressful event. It might be possible for memories of a crime scene to be influenced by beliefs about the sorts of people who commit crimes, Payne says. But a more direct experiment is necessary to be sure.

However, the results do not deal with recovered memory syndrome, in which adults become convinced they were abused as children, Payne says. This type of false memory only involves adding related details to real events.
Again. Subscription unfortunately.

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