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Memory and Eye Witness Testimony: The Reliability of Witnesses

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The debate on eyewitness reliability has been a long one as eyewitnesses can be a key component in court cases, especially criminal trails. The purpose of having witnesses of crime testifying in court is to aid the prosecutor or defense lawyer’s argument in hopes that the truth will be revealed through the adversarial system – that is the ideal. Several studies, including ones by Loftus, Tversky and Kahneman in the mid-1970s explored how witnesses can be directed to particular responses when asked questions that insinuate details of the incident or questions that have a biased answer set (as cited in Gurney, Pine & Wiseman, 2013).

However, at the time, less attention was given to non-verbal communication and its effects on memory recollection. Non-verbal communication such as gestures are found everywhere in human interactions as they add clarity to speech and makes for more effective communication between the speaker and listener (Gurney, Pine & Wiseman, 2013). Gurney, Pine and Wiseman’s gestural misinformation effect explored how gestures can influence how one comprehends and recalls information (2013). Gurney, Pine & Wiseman referenced Kelly, Barr, Church and Lynch’s experiment from 1999, two participating groups were shown a video of a woman saying, “My brother when to the gym”, although the message in both videos were identical, the gestures varied (as cited in Gurney, Pine & Wiseman, 2013). One group watch the video where there were no gestures accompanying the video, while the other group were shown the video with the woman making a gesture of shooting a basketball (as cited in Gurney, Pine & Wiseman, 2013). As a result, those who had seen the latter video falsely recalled the events and claimed that the woman’s brother when to play basketball (as cited in Gurney, Pine & Wiseman, 2013).

Gurney, Pine and Wiseman applied a similar concept to their own experiments which also resulting in similar findings. The interaction between Crown, Defense and the witness take place during testimony and cross examination and the use of gestures, in combination with postevent visual details and the length of time between the incident and the trail can skew the witness’s recollection of the event. However, the witness does not consider these factors because they become integrated into their memory and they believe that is what they originally witnessed.

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Memory and Eye Witness Testimony: the Reliability of Witnesses. (2019, November 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from
“Memory and Eye Witness Testimony: the Reliability of Witnesses.” GradesFixer, 26 Nov. 2019,
Memory and Eye Witness Testimony: the Reliability of Witnesses. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Jun. 2022].
Memory and Eye Witness Testimony: the Reliability of Witnesses [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Nov 26 [cited 2022 Jun 30]. Available from:
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