Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Will Your Words Become Mine? Underlying Processes and Cowitness Intimacy in the Memory Conformity Paradigm

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Will Your Words Become Mine? Underlying Processes and Cowitness Intimacy in the Memory Conformity Paradigm

Article excerpt

Eyewitness evidence still poses a dilemma. On the one hand, it constitutes an important contribution to criminal investigation (Wells, Memon, & Penrod, 2006). On the other hand, a large body of literature has revealed that memory reports reflect a fallible and malleable source of information (for a review see Steffens & Mecklenbräuker, 2007). One particularly important aspect within this context regards the presentation of postevent information. That is, after having witnessed an event, people may be exposed to the recollections of other witnesses, media reports or questions of police officers that contain information referring to the incident. This information may be inconsistent with one's own recollections, in that it contains additional or even contradictory details. For almost four decades now, researchers have addressed this issue and investigated the impact of discrepant postevent information on witness accounts (Loftus, Miller, & Burns, 1978). The typical finding is that participants are less likely to report the original information when misleading postevent information has been presented, compared with a control condition that included instead no information, neutral information or information consistent with the original (e.g.. Belli, Windshitl, McCarthy, & Winfrey, 1992; Intraub & Hoffmann, 1992; Payne, Toglia, & Anastasi, 1994).

Research regarding this misinformation effect (Loftus, 1979) mostly involved the presentation of postevent information that was embedded in "nonsocial" sources such as narratives (e.g., Wright & Stround. 1998). More recently, some studies have investigated the influence of postevent information that had been introduced by a real person such as a confederate (e.g., Allan & Gabbert, 2008; Schneider & Watkins, 1996) or another participant (e.g., Gabbert, Memon, & Allan, 2003; Garry, French, Kinzett, & Mori, 2008; Meade & Roediger, 2002; Mori & Mori, 2008; Wright & Schwartz., 2010; Wright, Self, & Justice, 2000). The relevance of this approach has become even more evident since Paterson and Kemp (2006) conducted a survey among witnesses and found that 86% of them had discussed their memories with another witness before talking to the police (see Skagerberg & Wright, 2008 for a smaller, but nevertheless substantial and relevant percentage: 58%). The detrimental effect on witnesses' memory of inconsistent postevent information from other people has been documented as well and has been termed social contagion (Meade & Roediger, 2002) or memory conformity (Wright, Memon, Skagerberg, & Gabbert, 2009). Two papers that compared cowitnesses and narratives as sources for inconsistent information the effects were stronger for cowitnesses (Gabbert, Memon, Allan, & Wright, 2004; Paterson & Kemp, 2006). Subsequent research addressed specific characteristics of the cowitnesses (e.g., Gabbert, Memon, & Wright, 2006) as well as the underlying processes (e.g., Bodner, Musch, & Azad, 2009; Skagerberg & Wright, 2008). Although most of the studies address eyewitness memory (by using visual stimuli), the findings are similar when auditory stimuli have to be remembered (e.g., Yarmey, 1992). Moreover, the basic underlying mechanisms-which are of main interest in the present paper-are presumably similar. Our study thus pursues the same main line of research, though with rather rarely used materials-auditory stim- uli. In particular, we addressed the following two research questions: First, we investigated the underlying mechanisms of memory conformity with a special focus on memory distortions. Second, we examined the impact of intimacy in the relationship to the other person (Friends vs. Non-Friends) on memory conformity. Previous studies have already investigated these issues, but we believe that some crucial aspects have not yet been taken into account. For both research questions we will briefly outline previous work and present our main concern. …

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