Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases
Eyewitnesses can provide very compelling legal testimony, but rather than recording experiences flawlessly, their memories are susceptible to a variety of errors and biases. They (like the rest of us) can make errors in remembering specific details and can even remember whole events that did not actually happen. In this module, we discuss several of the common types of errors, and what they can tell us about human memory and its interactions with the legal system.
- Describe the kinds of mistakes that eyewitnesses commonly make and some of the ways that this can impede justice.
- Explain some of the errors that are common in human memory.
- Describe some of the important research that has demonstrated human memory errors and their consequences.
Chapter Authors: Cara Laney & Elizabeth F. Loftus
Cara Laney, visiting assistant professor at Reed College, studies human memory and the myriad factors that can cause it to go wrong, including the biasing effects of emotion, motivation, aggression, morality, suggestion, and authority – both individually and in combination.
Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine. She holds appointments in the Department of Psychology & Social Behavior, the Department of Criminology, Law & Society, and the School of Law. She has published widely in the area of human memory, and has been honored for her research with six honorary doctorates and election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.