Academic journal article The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context

How Good Are Future Lawyers in Judging the Accuracy of Reminiscent Details? the Estimation-Observation Gap in Real Eyewitness accounts/Habilidad De Los Futuros Abogados Para Valorar la Precisión De Detalles Evocados. la Brecha Entre Estimación Y Observación En El Relato Real De Testigos Oculares

Academic journal article The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context

How Good Are Future Lawyers in Judging the Accuracy of Reminiscent Details? the Estimation-Observation Gap in Real Eyewitness accounts/Habilidad De Los Futuros Abogados Para Valorar la Precisión De Detalles Evocados. la Brecha Entre Estimación Y Observación En El Relato Real De Testigos Oculares

Article excerpt

Consider the case of a witness who has been questioned twice by the police and who reports some details only at the second interrogation, one week later. Would you trust such novel recollections?

Research indicates that reminiscent details-details that have not been previously reported (Ballard, 1913) -are perceived to be less credible than details that have been consistently reported in both interrogations (Berman & Cutler, 1996). More importantly, they are perceived to be less credible than they actually are. In a recent study, Oeberst (2012) asked students to encode two different types of stimuli (pictures in Experiment 1 and a film in Experiment 2). Directly after encoding as well as one week later, they were asked to remember as many details as they could. Crucially, another group was asked to estimate their fellow students' accuracy on this task. Accuracy of reminiscent items was tremendously underestimated: while, after one week, only 19% of novel recollections were expected to be accurate, 84% were observed to be accurate (Oeberst, 2012; Exp. 2). Moreover, even though an estimation-observation gap was also found for forgotten as well as for consistently recalled items, it was most pronounced for reminiscent items. These findings are of particular relevance when it comes to eyewitness testimony and its evaluation in the legal context. After all, a discrepancy between actual and assumed accuracy can result in momentous consequences for the involved persons' lives. But does this striking pattern extend to more complex and dynamic real-world events? The current study aimed at answering this question by having participants witness a staged event. In addition, it was examined whether an estimationobservation gap would also be found in person-identification tasks, which are often used in real-world trials.

Presumably based on informal observations of one's own memory for everyday experiences, individuals commonly hold the implicit assumption that memory for an event is best immediately after that event, and that it subsequently decreases with the passage of time (Ballard, 1913; Gilbert & Fisher, 2006; Magnussen et al., 2008; Oeberst, 2012)1. Although this is true with respect to net memory performance over extended time intervals (e.g., Ebbinghaus, 1885), forgetting does not necessarily preclude reminiscence of items, which were not previously recollected (e.g., Buschke, 1974) -it only implies that forgetting exceeds reminiscence (Erdelyi, 2010). However, the pattern of forgetting is much more consistent with one's expectations (Fisher, Brewer, & Mitchell, 2009; Gilbert & Fisher, 2006). In contrast, the frequent occurrence of reminiscence as well as its reliability (Baugerud, Magnussen, & Melinder, 2014; Bluck, Levine, & Laulhere, 1999; Brock, Fisher, & Cutler, 1999; Dunning & Stern, 1992; Erdelyi, 2010; Gilbert & Fisher, 2006; Oeberst, 2012) is rather unknown.

These considerations gain particular importance with regard to the legal system. After all, decision-makers in this system are laypersons when it comes to memory functioning (Fisher et al., 2009; Wise & Safer, 2003). Thus, empirical evidence stands in stark contrast to what these laypersons might expect. Expectations, however, guide the evaluation of eyewitness evidence (Leippe & Romanzcyk, 1989). Moreover, some jury instructions even explicitly recommend consideration of the (in)consistency of a witnesses' statement made on various occasions (e.g., Florida Supreme Court Standard Jury Instructions 3d, 2009). Reminiscence falls under the umbrella of such inconsistencies since the term 'inconsistencies' is referred to in a rather general way (e.g., Sixth Circuit Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions, No. 107, 2005) thereby conflating different types of inconsistencies (e.g., reminiscence, forgetting, contradictions). Logical and empirical aspects argue against such a conflation, however (Berman & Cutler, 1996; Brock et al. …

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