Law manager in South Carolina

These findings back up Bartlett's idea that people's schemas affect the way they recall, this also backs up the argument that eye witness testimony is unreliable, as it shows that people will add there own prejudices and it may become more stereotypical and clid. This shows those if people were to recall what they had seen their schemas may distort the information or certain bit s of information may be missed out or they may come to different conclusions and remember something that didn't really happen and so give false evidence showing that the eyewitness testimony is not reliable. 

The problem with EWT is that although it tends to be lacking accuracy, it is often used by the prosecution in trial, and can be the key evidence to convict. For instance, Loftus (1979) and the case of the Sawyer brothers, who were arrested for robbery of a store manager in South Carolina in 1975.

The victim could recall that one of the men looked Hispanic, that their car was an off white 1965 Dodge Dart, and that one of the men looked like someone who had applied for a job at the store previously. A simple sketch was made of one of the suspects. Within days the Sawyers were arrested. Both men denied all knowledge of the robbery, neither looked like the sketch, nor had they applied for a job at the store. Both had alibis but at the trial the store manager positively identified them and they were convicted. A real culprit later confessed and the Sawyers were released. The jury had reliable upon eye-witness testimony, despite contradictory evidence.

Another psychologist is Loftus, she did many studies into how language may affect some ones memory, one of these studies by Loftus and Palmer (1974). They showed a number of people a clip of a car crash, after wards they asked the participants questions about what they had seen. A question was asked, 'how fast were the cars going when they hit each other' and in others 'hit' was changed to 'smashed into' when the verb 'hit' was used the average speed was considerably lower than when the words 'smashed into' were used.

This supports the statement as if questions asked to the eyewitness where phrased in a different way it may distort there memory and change it completely. Another question that was asked a week after the participants saw the clip was 'did you see any broken glass' those that had previously been asked the question using the verb smashed were more likely to say that there was broken glass than those that has use the verb 'hit'. This also backs up the idea that the language that is used when questioning someone may change their memories all together and make them remember something that wasn't even there, making eye witnesses unreliable.

However there are theories that state EWT is reliable. A flash bulb memory is a very accurate vivid and detailed memory of an event, which will have had a great impact, may have been dramatic or surprising. Brown and Kulik (1977) suggest that there is a special neural mechanism that is triggered by an important even and makes a permanent record this is thought to be caused by the hormone adrenalin.

They believe that there are 6 characteristic categories of information, who told the news, the place, what the person was doing at the time, their emotional state, the emotional state of others around, the consequence for the individual. This argues that if the eye witness was to be affected by the event which they witnessed and it had a great impact on them they would be able to recall it very accurately as they would have a flash bulb memory of it and so would make eye witness testimonies very accurate.

From my research into psychological studies and theories, it is reasonable for me to say that eye-witness testimony is unreliable and shouldn't be used as the number one source of evidence in court. EWT is all based on perception, and every individual's perception of things will differ, this could be on account of age, mood at the time, experience with this situation and on how reliable their memory actually is, therefore should only be used as backup, not key evidence. There have been studies into improving EWT. Geiselman (1985) believed that there should be some changes made to understand and make eyewitness testimony more reliable, and that people should take into account some of the basic characteristics of human memory.

Memory traces are complex, and contain various features and/or kinds of information. The effectiveness of retrieval cue depends upon the extent to which the information it contains overlaps with the information stored in the memory trace, this is the encoding specificity principal. Various retrieval cues may permit access to any given memory trace, for example, if the name of an acquaintance cannot be retrieved, it may be recalled if the other information is used as a retrieval cue.