The view that human memory is not an exact copy of events is widely accepted.
Rather, it is now understood to be a reconstruction that may be altered over time. Research has demonstrated that memory may be changed during storage, processing, and retrieval. This understanding is particularly important in relation to eyewitness testimony.
The argument that asking witnesses leading questions can result in inaccurate recollection of events was challenged by Yuille and Cutshall (1986). They aimed to determine if recall of an event would change over time. They conducted interviews with witnesses who observed a shooting incident at the time, in which one person was killed and another was seriously wounded. There were 21 witnesses to this crime, all of whom were interviewed by the police. 13 of these witnesses, aged between 15 and 32, consented to be interviewed by the researchers four to five months after the crime.
The eyewitness accounts provided to the police and the researchers were compared. Yuille and Cutshall found that the witnesses were highly accurate in their accounts and recall changed little over time. They did note, however, that some details were not well recalled – especially those relating to colours, as well as the age, height, and weight estimations of people involved in the crime scene. They noted that the eyewitnesses were not overly influenced by leading questions, and the stress of witnessing so violent a crime did not have detrimental effects on their memory. They argued that these results challenged many laboratory studies of eyewitness memory and concluded that further field research was needed.
Reference: C. Yuille, John & L. Cutshall, Judith. (1986). A Case Study of Eyewitness Memory of a Crime. The Journal of Applied Psycholoy. 71. 291-301. 10.1037//0021-9010.71.2.291
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