Verifying the Accuracy of Witness Memory


The purpose of this study was to develop a clear understanding of the ability of eyewitnesses to remember their self-made reports, concerning choice blindness. The researchers wanted to identify whether eyewitnesses can recall their reports accurately if the reports have been manipulated. The process entailed two experiments that aimed at reviewing the accuracy of the witnesses’ memory following the manipulation of the reports they gave shortly after the experiments (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The study would reveal the reliability of eyewitnesses by highlighting their susceptibility to developing new memories from manipulated reports. The findings of the study would ultimately have a great impact on the justice system, especially concerning the handling of evidence collected from eyewitnesses.

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The researchers in this study hypothesized that if people are misled about their self-reported memories, they are likely to change their future memories. Testing the hypothesis would require the researchers to develop a study that would apply the relevant variables and subject the participants to a choice blindness paradigm without their knowledge. Just like many past studies on choice blindness, the variable of interest in the results would be the percentage of participants who would not recognize the changes in their reports (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The researchers applied choice blindness and misinformation effect to test the hypothesis.

Importance of the Study

Although the concept of choice blindness has been understudied, there has been an increase in the number of researchers looking into the concept in recent years. While most researchers in the past only looked into proving that choice blindness is a valid concept, recent studies have focused on developing an understanding of the implications of choice blindness from a misleading perspective. More specifically, researchers in recent times have focused on the role of choice blindness on the decisions made by individuals. This study is a continuation of the focus on the misleading effect of choice blindness, and it was particularly geared toward enhancing the understanding of choice blindness from a psychological perspective. The researchers intended to highlight the actual effect of choice blindness on the creation of memory, with a close focus on eyewitnesses. The study would be instrumental in determining the validity of eye witness evidence in the justice system (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).

Additionally, the study aimed at ensuring that just like other studies in the past, the participants were placed under the manipulated paradigm after a long time following the actual event. This was done to ensure that the memories created by the participants were in the weathering process when they were given the manipulated images. This would ultimately enhance the validity of the findings because eyewitnesses are normally given the chance to give their memory reports several hours or days after the actual event has taken place. The long wait would help in confirming the validity of the discrepancy detection principle, which claims that people tend to develop new memories if they cannot detect discrepancies in the misinformation given (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The core element of the choice blindness concept is the misleading effect, which influences individuals to incorporate misinformation in their new memories without detecting any changes from their memories.


For the first experiment, the researchers applied the random sampling method and selected 186 participants from a university in Southern California. The selected individuals were taken through an attention test to determine whether they qualified to provide valid results in the test. This test led to the elimination of 15 participants from the original sample, and since six more students could not complete the experiment, the researchers worked with a sample space of 165 students (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).

In the second experiment, the researchers were aware that they needed a large sample space to enhance the validity of the findings; hence, they selected 392 participants from a university in Southern California. Technical issues led to 13 participants failing to complete the analysis process; hence, the researchers worked with a sample space of 379 participants. This was a good number considering that they were targeting a sample space between 350-400 participants (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).


The first experiment included two conditions after the baseline results. The first condition was self-sourced, which entailed presenting the participants with their reports from the initial reports but manipulating three variables in every report. The manipulated variables were selected randomly for every participant. The researchers would then record the ability of the participants to detect the manipulations or develop new memories based on the new variables alongside the initial variables. The second condition presented an ‘other-sourced’ platform, where the subsequent questioning was based on presenting the baseline report as if it had been given by another participant, and evaluating the ability of the participants to alter their memory in alignment to the new information (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).

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The actual experiment entailed providing an online video showing a lady interacting with three other people. One of the people stole her wallet. The participants were then given 15 minutes before being asked 10 identical questions presented in a random order for every participant. The questions were asked in a manner that depicted an interrogation process with the police, and the researchers recorded the self-made reports. The participants were given 15 more minutes before being subjected to the misinformation stage. They were given their initial response reports with three of the answers altered. Follow up questions were given for every question, including the ones with altered answers (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The participants were then provided with their reports presented as another person’s report and asked the same follow up questions. The last stage of the first experiment came after 45 minutes of the initial viewing of the video, and they were asked the same baseline questions a second time to evaluate the changes in their memory.

The second experiment used three conditions, the controlled, non-manipulated, and manipulated conditions. The participants were asked to identify a criminal. In the controlled condition, they were not given any feedback for their responses. In the non-manipulated platform, the participants were provided with accurate feedback for their choices. In the last condition, the researchers gave them some misleading feedback. In the actual experiment, the participants were shown a video depicting a Caucasian thief stealing a radio from a car in the streets. The video showed the face of the man briefly. The participants would then be provided with a lineup of suspects. The retention time before the identification process was 10 minutes for every participant (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The participants were then showed the lineup of suspects, which did not have the image of the actual criminal, and asked to identify the criminal they had seen in the video.

After 10 more minutes, the participants were selected randomly and assigned to one of the three conditions. In the non-manipulated condition, the participants were shown the suspect they had chosen and asked to give reasons that made them choose the specific individuals. In the manipulated condition, the participants were shown a different suspect from the one they had picked from the lineup, and they were asked to give reasons for selecting the specific suspects (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016). The control group was not provided with a picture of the man they had selected, but they were asked to give the reasons for picking them from the line. The last stage of the experiment involved showing the participants a second lineup with the same faces but in a different order, and they were asked to pick out the suspect from the video.

Statistical Procedures

In the first experiment, the researchers calculated the mean difference of the responses given by the participants in the various reports, concerning their changes after subjection to the misinformation. The researchers used the ANOVA statistical approach to evaluate the changes in response for every participant to reveal the effects of the misinformation on their memory. The second experiment utilized a one-way ANOVA analysis after coding the responses from each participant (Cochran, Greenspan, Bogart, & Loftus, 2016).


Figure 1 in the article reveals the mean scores for the memory items in both time 1 and time 2. The change in the scores is calculated by subtracting the scores for the first time from the scores in the second time to reveal the changes associated with the exposure to the respective conditions.

Major Finding

The major finding from experiment 1 is that when witnesses are exposed to manipulated reports of their initial reports, their memory is ultimately altered to conform to the details in the manipulated report. This indicates that eye-witnesses might not have the ability to recall the actual events that took place in a given situation if they are subjected to other numerous versions of the story. For instance, after a crime or an accident, the eyewitnesses are likely to give the actual information about the event, but as time passes by and they get to discuss the event with other witnesses, they are likely to influence each other’s ability to remember an event accurately. Additionally, the findings from the first experiment revealed that, indeed, it is possible to influence eye witness memories by subjecting them to manipulated reports of their initial reports. For instance, the evidence collected by police officers in a criminal case can be manipulated and the eye witness is likely to give a testimony in court that is not accurate.

The second experiment supported the claims of the discrepancy detection principle. The experiment revealed that the blindness to the manipulations that were applied by the researchers was the main cause of the distortion of the memories of the participants. The three conditions applied in the test revealed that the majority of the participants were not aware that the suspects they had selected were changed in the subsequent tests. Additionally, the provision of feedback played a major role in reducing the ability of the participants to detect any discrepancies in the information. These findings were in line with the findings from the first experiment, but the second experiment provided a clearer picture of the factors that lead to choice blindness. The results validated the hypothesis of the study.

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Theoretical Implication

By validating the discrepancy detection principle, the study implies that the misinformation effect can be better understood. It is apparent that the theoretical framework of the study was deeply rooted in the concept of misinformation effects, and this implies that future researchers will sufficient background information to test the theory. Additionally, the theory of choice blindness has been evaluated in the two experiments, with a closer focus on the time variable in influencing changes in memory.

Limitations of the Study

One of the limitations of the study was the fact that the participants digested the information from an online platform, which indicates that there might have been participants who did not pay much attention to the information. The study would have produced more accurate findings if the researchers had control over the attention of the participants, and this would have called for the study to be conducted in a lab setting. Additionally, conducting the online experiments reduced the choices that the researchers had in experimenting with variables that would provide more accuracy in the data. For instance, using food flavors has emerged as a favorite approach in experiments involving choice blindness.

Implications on Future Studies

Future studies might look into overcoming the limitations highlighted in this study. They should particularly conduct experiments in a lab setting rather than in online platforms. Future studies should replicate the findings from this research, but they should focus on other factors instead of the misinformation effect. For instance, researchers might look into establishing the most appropriate time to collect information from an eye witness to eliminate the influence of choice blindness in their memory.


The findings from this study reveal that the collection of data from eyewitnesses should be handled carefully to ensure that the information is valid. The findings are consistent with the findings from other researchers looking into choice blindness (Steenfeldt-Kristensen & Thornton, 2013). The influence of choice blindness has revealed that eyewitnesses are prone to developing new memories to attain alignment with the newly manipulated information. The lack of detection of discrepancies in information is quite a worrying finding because it shows that eyewitnesses might not always have the ability to detect manipulations in their initial reports.


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, 44(5), 717-726.

Steenfeldt-Kristensen, C., & Thornton, I. M. (2013). Haptic choice blindness. I-Perception, 4(3), 207-210.

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