Eyewitnesses’ accounts are partly unreliable because the brain does not retain many specifics and is highly susceptible to suggestion, reports the New York Times.
“Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded,” said Barbara Tversky psychology professor at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College in New York. “An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about. When we don’t remember, we make inferences.”
The process of police questioning and prepping for trial can crystallize a person’s own faulty reconstruction.
One of the earliest and more famous experiments to demonstrate that memories are malleable was conducted by Elizabeth Loftus, an early pioneer of witness memory research and a psychology professor at the University of California, Irvine.
In a study published in The Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, she asked participants to view films of fender-benders in which no car windows or headlights were broken.
Later, the subjects who were asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other–as opposed to “hit”–were more likely to report speeding and describe shattered glass that they never actually saw.
Have you or someone you know been injured in a Florida accident?