And Now for Something Completely Different

After reading so many studies on the inaccuracies of human memory, and how easy it is for witnesses to be influenced by just about anything, I am losing a little faith in the way our justice system works. Apparently, memory can be enhanced with multiple eyewitnesses talking about what happened. That is a start. But when the hard evidence comes down to one individual saying what they think happened, that seems a bit dangerous.

Amusingly enough, a videogame I once played was based on law. For those interested (i.e. nobody), it was called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The gameplay was simple: you hear a witness testimony that damns your client, and then you pick it apart by pressing them on certain statements and presenting evidence that contradicts their account. I thought it was fun, but entirely unrealistic. But the books we have read and the studies and articles written are in vague support of such a scenario, where witnesses remember things inaccurately, or sometimes totally wrong. Psychological studies suggest that witnesses can be entirely unreliable and yet totally confident, for various reasons. Perhaps something does not make completely sense in their memory, so their mind cleans the memory up a bit. Perhaps something completely unrelated, such as a clothing store display, infiltrated the perceived event, so now the criminal is wearing a certain outfit. Our minds are not file cabinets after all; our memories can overlap. Or we can remember things that did not happen (coolest word ever: confabulation). The simulation in class presented twenty-six individuals with a single event, which none of us could remember with extreme accuracy. That we could argue over something as simple as the color of the person’s clothing is a little foreboding. If we couldn’t even get that right, could we actually point out the “criminal?” Would our testimony be more misleading than helpful? Man, the jury sure has a tough job. In the mean time, I wonder if any psychological principles could be used to help the witnesses remember more accurately.

-Rae

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~ by Rae on July 29, 2010.

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