Memory Consolidation: Psychobiology of Cognition

By Herbert Weingartner; Elizabeth S. Parker | Go to book overview

7 Departures from Reality in Human Perception and Memory

Elizabeth F. Loftus University of Washington

John C. Yuille University of British Columbia


INTRODUCTION: TRACE THEORY AND TRADITIONAL MEMORY RESEARCH

A quiet afternoon in a pharmacy is disrupted by the sudden appearance of a young man wielding a knife. In the presence of six customers and two staff, he threatens a female employee with the knife, demanding: "I want drugs. Give me all of your drugs and hurry up." While the pharmicist is unlocking the safe containing the controlled drugs, the intruder opens the cash register and removes all of the money. He then moves to the back of the pharmacy, and removes a quantity of drugs. He flees from the store, after which the police are called. During the three minute period between the phone call and the arrival of the police, three of the patrons of the pharmacy, who are acquaintances, have an opportunity to discuss the event with one another so that they could "cement in their minds their description of that horrible creature." Two policemen arrive and begin to separately interview the witnesses. The police are unhappy, although not surprised, to find a considerable discrepancy among the witnesses concerning the appearance of the thief as well as the sequence of events. In fact, the major consistency is among the three acquaintances. Otherwise, the witnesses are unable to agree on the height, weight, clothing, and age of the thief.

Two weeks after the incident the two employees and three of the witnesses are asked to go through a set of 400 pictures supplied by a computer sort from the library of police mug shots. One employee and one eyewitness identify the same picture. The others are unable to identify anyone. The individual identified by the two witnesses is arrested and placed in a lineup, which is viewed individually

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