False Memories and Reliability of Eye Witness Testimony


Eyewitnesses are untrustworthy due to amnesia and age variables; additionally, elderly witnesses seem to be more unreliable than younger generations. As they provide incorrect responses and are more convincing, these seniors are typically insistent and confident. Poor vision might sometimes render eyewitness reports untrustworthy. In court hearings, adequate visual presentation is critical for providing accurate information. Eyewitnesses are asked to identify offenders using photograph lineups (Wagner and Skowronski, 2017, p. 35). This may be counterproductive since an observer may identify based on face resemblance in some circumstances.

Literature Review

Eyewitness evidence is an occurrence that a person observed or was a part of the incident. It is then utilized to obtain the precise information required. The credibility of witness accounts is one of the contentious issues that has sparked national discussions within the U.S. as well as other areas around the world. According to the article “Creating (false) Memories with Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D.”, by Garcia (2017), false eyewitness evidence accounts for almost half of all miscarriages of justice. Garcia explains that investigators at Ohio State University studied numerous false convictions and discovered that eyewitness discrepancies accounted for around 52% of the mistakes (p. 20). Despite the concerns about the trustworthiness of firsthand evidence, it is getting recognition in the judicial proceedings. Nevertheless, when catastrophic events occur, such as watching a crime, the victim’s response and the dependability of their recollection might shift. As each victim reacts differently, their emotions run high, worry might set in, or they can stay devoid of emotion, be unresponsive, or even stay quiet.

According to various studies, the assumption that memory may be readily altered has been investigated by depending on false memory scenarios in which dissociative episodes are formed provocatively or impulsively. For example, in their article “Consequences of False Memories in Eyewitness Testimony,” Wang et al. (2018) explain how using the disinformation narrative may influence eyewitness testimonies. According to Wang et al. (2018), the misinformation concept is divided into three phases. In the first step, known as the encoding stage, subjects often watch a film showing an incident where a crime is being committed or an incident about an accident (p. 12). Then, during the disinformation stage, individuals are exposed to deceptive material, such as assertions or leading questions. Finally, during the memory regeneration period, the respondents are asked to recollect specific aspects of the viewed event (p. 12). Thus, disruptions such as assault may have occurred during the crime, rendering the testimony untrustworthy. Due to the significant source of erroneous convictions, insensitive prosecutors, and pressured confessions made by government authorities, the veracity of eyewitness testimony has been doubtful.

Many people have been falsely convicted of felonies they did not commit before the introduction of DNA testing. In their article “Social influence and mental routes to the production of authentic false memories and inauthentic false memories,” Wagner and Skowronski (2017) claim that a false confession is a tricky bit of proof to present to a judicial officer since it significantly prejudices their assessment of the particular instance in favor of a guilty verdict, to the point where they may permit it to override even compelling evidence of an accused’s truthful account (p. 40). Wagner and Skowronski (2017) insist that prosecutors may employ physical and psychological coercion to pressure a person into admitting, which is one of the perils of depending on testimonies to gain felony convictions. Proving guilt solely on such confessions rather than beyond a reasonable doubt is one example of a fair process (p. 41). The risk of obtaining a prosecution through a wrongful conviction is reliability, while disadvantaged people are included in inequality.

However, in recent years, forensic evidence (DNA) has been used to convict guilty persons of crimes they did conduct. According to research done by Garcia (2017), understanding the psychology underpinning eyewitness recognition has significant legal implications since it can discriminate between prosecution and exoneration (p. 21). This type of testimony is essential in the legal system since it is often the most convincing level of proof available in court (Helm, 2021, p. 265). When eyewitnesses recount a crime or choose a suspect from a selection, they depend on recollection.

The longer time passes, the more a person’s memory is impacted, and they begin to doubt what they previously observed. As a result, if eyewitness testimony is utilized, it must be predicated on the face-to-face watcher of happenings and the offender. According to cognitive scientists, a participant’s brain and memory might be incorrect and inadequate (Helm, 2021, p. 267). Encoding, retention, and extraction are the three processes of memory performance. Encoding is the memory process that converts visual, aural, and meaningful input into information that can be stored in the memory system (Garcia, 2017, p. 22). Retention is the memory that takes information and stores it for any period since each person stores memory independently.

Memory recovery is retrieving information that has been encoded and subsequently stored. Nonetheless, there are situations when one cannot recall what they held since the manner it was processed and preserved did not make sense when the input was received (Wang et al., 2018, p. 18). People will create mistakes even if their perceptual abilities are excellent, and as a result, the individual may misinterpret what they see or hear. A participant’s memory might provide incorrect clues, altering the person’s memories (Helm, 2021, p. 269). However, several factors influence the accuracy and dependability of the evidence presented. Whenever one deals with witness evidence and social factors, the Theory of Persuasive Ideas of Robert Cialdini springs to mind. The concept explains how one determines what is confirmed by detecting what others perceive and believe is true (Shkurska, 2021, p.746). As a result, the idea has had a broad impact on how individuals judge what action is appropriate in any given scenario.

As a result, when it comes to firsthand evidence, some witnesses may behave and provide their story even if it is not accurate simply. According to Wang et al. (2018), the above is because participants may believe that is what the scenario requires or what other people expect them to say. They may not even do it intentionally at times, and this is when dependability and precision can be severely compromised. Body posture may even cause one to adjust their proof to display a portrayal they would not have had if they had not seen those clear signals from someone else. An eyewitness may therefore get confused or even purposefully provide an inaccurate testimony due to the pressures and effects exerted by others. This demonstrates that individuals may occasionally overestimate the appropriateness of their thoughts and views due to ambiguity and the fact that they compared their judgments to other people’s attitudes and perceptions.

Cialdini’s theory also argues that individuals seek others to assess and receive social assistance as a foundation for their attitudes and beliefs. According to Wagner and Skowronski (2017), these comparisons can become surprisingly crucial in situations perceived as dangerous or uncertain (p. 48). There is an element of doubt in these eyewitness recognition circumstances. Because it is difficult to determine who is genuinely guilty and who is innocent, observers cannot be sure if the culprit they discovered is correct or not. Even law enforcement officers are unsure if someone is guilty or not in the situation. This may prompt spectators to seek validation from others who witnessed the same occurrence.

Another critical component in witness statements is how the observers interpret everything around them. In their article, Wagner and Skowronski (2017) give an example of this scenario. They maintain that most witnesses can provide extremely forceful and convincing testimony, but this does not imply that it is credible and truthful (p. 52). They do not just recall everything flawlessly: they are easily sensitive to and suggestible to various inaccuracies and prejudices. They are prone to making errors when remembering exact details and, sometimes, recalling events that never occurred. Most critically, once made, these errors cannot be reversed. Memory is not any less memorable because it is false. This is due to its ability to be readily distorted. The psychological impact of fear, tension, or suffering is more liable to provide false memories of unpleasant occurrences than happy ones.


To summarize, even though the proof of evidence from the witness is not exceptionally reliable, it is exceedingly persuasive and influential in allowing a judge to determine the outcome of a case. Mistaking can occur during court proceedings, and such errors could result in persons being unjustly condemned and even sent to prison. Correspondingly, leading investigations, mischaracterizations of occurrences, discussions with co-witnesses, as well as their assumptions about whatever could have transpired might cumulatively tamper with the recollection of the witness. Individuals might even start recalling other occurrences that never took place.

Reference List

Garcia, A. (2017) ‘Creating (false) memories with Elizabeth Loftus, PhD’, Eye on Psi Chi Magazine, 21(4), 20-23.

Helm, R. (2021) ‘Evaluating witness testimony: Juror knowledge, false memory, and the utility of evidence-based directions’, The International Journal of Evidence & Proof, 25(4), 264-285.

Shkurska, I (2021) ‘Some issues of an assessing the reliability of the testimony of a witness in criminal proceedings’, Juridical Scientific and Electronic Journal, (11), 745-747.

Wagner, M., and Skowronski, J. (2017) ‘Social influence and mental routes to the production of authentic false memories and inauthentic false memories’, Consciousness and Cognition, 51, 34-52.

Wang, J., Otgaar, H., Smeets, T., Howe, M., Merckelbach, H. and Zhuo, C. (2018) ‘Consequences of False Memories in Eyewitness Testimony: A review and implications for Chinese legal practice’. Psychological Research on Urban Society, 1(1), p.12-22.

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