There are many factors that can affect memory. These include weapon focus, memory conformity, emotional arousal, and leading questions (which I will be analysing). Leading questions are questions that are asked that contain hints as to what the correct answer to the question might be. The vocabulary, statistics or syntax of the question can encourage the person being asked to reconstruct their memories differently than they would if simply asked to recount the events. This is an important factor in eyewitness memory, as it raises issues concerning the reliability of eyewitness testimony, which is very important in courts.
Research into eyewitness testimony by Loftus and Palmer (1974) looked to determine whether the vocabulary used in asking questions to eyewitnesses to a car accident affected their estimate of the speed at which the cars were travelling. 45 student participants were asked to watch 7 videos clips showing traffic accidents, and they were asked to write down accounts of what they had just seen, as well as answering more specific questions. The critical one of these questions asked the participants, ‘About how fast were the cars going when they… each other?’ In each case, the gap would be filled by a different word or phrase that could describe the collision between the cars. In this study, the words used were: smashed, hit, bumped, collided, contacted.
Figure 1: Graph of speed estimates for different verbs used in the witness question
This graph of the results shows that the verb used in the question can lead participants to reconstruct their memory differently. It shows that the use of the verb ‘smashed’ lead participants to believe that the cars were going on average 9mph faster than if they were asked using the verb, ‘contacted’. This is because the verb ‘smashed’ implies much more power than ‘contacted’, so participants were lead to believe that the cars were travelling faster.
Despite the fact that this study was carried out in an...