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The Problem of Memory Blindness and Its Impact


The article addresses the issue of memory blindness and its effects on eyewitness recollections. According to the authors of the article, choice blindness encompasses the concept that people can be misled and distort facts that they had previously reported. The purpose of the study is to examine “whether people would detect alterations to their memory reports and whether such alterations could influence participants’ memories” (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).

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The study hypothesizes that when individuals are requested to choose between various options, they do not notice if they are later presented with an option that they had not chosen in the first place. This particular study extends its coverage by focusing on eyewitness memory. Another research question that the authors of the article presented in “whether people can detect changes made to their own previously given memory reports, and whether such changes affect what people subsequently remember” (Cochran et al., 2016).

According to the article, memory blindness is subject to several factors including personal decisions and the types of manipulation used on memories. Therefore, this study is important because seeks to establish whether the existing literature on memory blindness can be correlated to eyewitness memories and subsequent future recollections. Furthermore, it is important to note that past literature has linked memory blindness to third-party manipulations. The time that lapses between decision changes is a strong determinant of the manifestation of memory blindness. This paper is a summary of the article as well as a reflection of the author’s findings.


In this experiment, a group of 186 students was sampled and after the mandatory checks, the sample was narrowed down to 165. A part of the initial sample failed to complete the experiment while another did not pass the attention check. The design of this study involved two separate experiments. The first experiment had two different scenarios, all aimed at establishing inconsistencies in memory reports.

A part of the sample in the first experiment was given falsified input as part of their recollections. Another part of the sample was supplied with their previous recollections as if they came from somewhere else. Nevertheless, the constant variable in these scenarios was how recollections of the participants would change when they were subjected to distortions. The first experiment was conducted online as a video that the participants watched.

After fifteen minutes, the participants were asked to give eyewitness accounts of what they had seen in the video. After another fifteen minutes, the same procedure was repeated but this time participants were shown their previous recollection with subtle misinformation. Fifteen minutes later, the participants were asked to give another eyewitness account of their recollections. An important variable of this experiment is that only less than 5% of the sample indicated a bias towards the main hypothesis. In the second experiment, the same procedure was repeated but a larger sample of 379 participants was used. The only difference in the second experiment was that the sample was large enough to produce subgroups.

Analyses and Results

The first aspect of measurement in this experiment was the level of “participants’ free responses when they described their reasons for making their identification” (Cochran et al., 2016, p. 722). Data was collected using formulas that correlated the number of detectors and non-detectors with several variables including manipulated conditions. Overall, the study found that only 47.2% of the participants were able to detect the manipulations of their accounts.

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The measurements also indicated that the test subjects who detected the misinformation wrote fewer words than non-detectors. The authors point out that detectors write fewer words out of conviction. Table 1 presents a comparison of statements from detectors and non-detectors. For example, a detector would point out ‘this was not the picture I selected’ while a non-detector would say ‘I picked this photo because the guy looked very mono-toned…had a sort of wide head and face’ (Cochran et al., 2016).

The study also showed that out of all the sampled participants, 25% had memory blindness. The variables that applied to these results included the change in lineup and knowledge of manipulation. Eventually, it became apparent that non-detectors changed their recollections more than the participants who were in the control groups.


The results of the first experiment acted as confirmation of results from the second trial. Nonetheless, the entire experiment acted as proof of the main hypothesis. The underlying principle in this hypothesis is that “non-detectors are significantly more likely to show evidence of memory change than detectors are” (Cochran et al., 2016, p. 724). Therefore, the authors of the study conclude that memory distortion is mainly caused by blindness to manipulation and not necessarily misinformation.

This conclusion is made because when the participants of the study detected misinformation, they responded similarly to the group that was not aware of misinformation. Data from the experiment also indicates that memory blindness is not necessarily connected to poor attention spans. This conclusion nullifies one of the myths that are connected to memory blindness especially in its application to eyewitness accounts.

One practical implication of the study is in finding out whether an eyewitness’ account can be altered after a subject is presented with misinformation regarding his/her recollections. According to this study, the phenomenon of ‘memory blindness’ is possible whereby “when witnesses are exposed to manipulated versions of their memory reports, they often fail to notice the manipulation, and their memories often change to be consistent with those altered reports” (Cochran et al., 2016).

Therefore, this study has a practical implication for the legal system. For example, during investigations, it is customary for witnesses to be handed summaries of their accounts and asked to sign them. Due to the effects of memory blindness, witnesses can contradict their accounts thereby rendering their evidence inadmissible in a legal process. One theoretical implication of this study is in its relation to the retrieval-enhanced suggestibility (RES). Also, the study produces results that are similar to postevent information (PEI) reporting. For instance, as in PEI memory blindness is enhanced by the number of times that reporting takes place. The authors of the study reckon that “it would be an interesting study indeed that disentangles the RES effect from the memory blindness effect” (Cochran et al., 2016, p. 724).

The limitations of this study include the fact that the experience was not carried out face-to-face but through the internet. The online experiments meant that the participants might have been unable to pay full attention to the proceedings. For example, although they were looking at the video experiment, their physical presence was confined to a different environment. The other limitation of the study involves how the researchers measured the participants’ levels of detection. For example, the first experiment measured detection in a retrospective manner while the second experiment only involved coded responses.

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In these constrained circumstances, participants can respond inaccurately. The future research for this topic should focus on accurate modalities of measuring detection. Therefore, it would be easier for researchers to understand why respondents take more time to justify their choices in cases of misinformation.

Compare and Contrast

The issue of memory blindness has been a vital psychological subject, especially about its application to the criminal justice system (Loftus, 2005). Therefore, research on this topic is likely to assist stakeholders to distinguish truth from myths. This paper focuses on micro-studies that help indicate the simple facts about memory blindness. One of the most unexpected twists in this research study is the fact that the time taken to respond to manipulated situations has been found to have a significant effect on memory blindness. As scientific research, this paper has conformed to the basic guidelines of empirical research.

The hypothesis of the study is well presented and defined at the beginning of the paper. Nevertheless, the connection between criminology and psychology is evident in this paper. Therefore, there is a possibility for collaboration between the legal machinery and psychological studies as it is evident from this study. This study has helped to explain that the environment under which eyewitness accounts are given is as important as the witness’ accounts.

The study has also shown that individuals who handle witnesses should be careful not to act as sources of misinformation. The findings of this research are consistent with those of other studies on the topic of memory blindness (Merckelbach, Jelicic, & Pieters, 2011). However, it is important to note that this study provides additional insight into the minute details that apply to the outside influences that determine memory blindness.


Cochran, K. J., Greenspan, R. L., Bogart, D. F., & Loftus, E. F. (2016). Memory blindness: Altered memory reports lead to distortion in eyewitness memory. Memory & Cognition, 2(3), 1-10.

Loftus, E. F. (2005). Planting misinformation in the human mind: A 30-year investigation of the malleability of memory. Learning & Memory, 12(4), 361-366.

Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., & Pieters, M. (2011). Misinformation increases symptom reporting: a test–retest study. JRSM Short Reports, 2(10), 75-76.

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