Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective

By Neil Brewer; Kipling D. Williams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Eyewitness Recall and Testimony

AINAT PANSKY

ASHER KORIAT

MORRIS GOLDSMITH


THE RASHOMON DILEMMA:
THE COMPLEXITY OF EYEWITNESS RECALL

In Akira Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon, four eyewitnesses recount different versions of an event involving a man's murder and the rape of his wife. The four highly discrepant recollections of the same event suggest that not only are many details forgotten, but that much of the information that is "remembered" may be distorted or fabricated, or is at the very least, inherently subjective. The film highlights the intricacies of eyewitness recall and testimony in real-life situations, forcefully conveying the fact that memory does not operate like a video recorder. Identifying the factors and memory processes that may account for such discrepancies between different recollections of the same event poses an important challenge for memory researchers. It also raises difficult questions concerning "truth" and "accuracy."

What causes one person's recollection to differ from another's and from the observed event? Following the classic work of Ebbinghaus (1895/1964), the traditional experimental approach in memory research has focused almost exclusively on memory quantity; that is, on the amount of information that is retained or can be reproduced (Koriat & Goldsmith, 1996a, 1996b). This line of research has identified various factors that determine the strength of the memory "trace," thereby affecting the amount of event-related information that is remembered. First, people's original encoding of events may vary as a result of differences in such factors as perceptual conditions (e.g., lighting, vantage point, quality of the physical stimuli), the distinctiveness and impor-

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