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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
The problem with eyewitness testimony

Here is an interesting talk called “The problem with eyewitness testimony”. It is a TED talk from a gentleman called Scott Fraser:

“Scott Fraser studies how humans remember crimes - and bear witness to them. In this powerful talk, which focuses on a deadly shooting at sunset, he suggests that even close-up eyewitnesses to a crime can create "memories" they could not have seen. Why? Because the brain abhors a vacuum.”

This obviously has a bearing on self-protection due to the legal ramifications of both our own recollection of events, and the recollection of witnesses.

Here is another indirectly related video called “The fiction of memory” which looks false memory:

“Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus studies memories. More precisely, she studies false memories, when people either remember things that didn't happen or remember them differently from the way they really were. It's more common than you might think, and Loftus shares some startling stories and statistics, and raises some important ethical questions we should all remember to consider.”

I hope you find the videos interesting and they this thread leads to more information being shared on this topic.

All the best,


ky0han's picture

Hi Iain,

I have seen a tv show that is made for children with my son the other day. The shows topic was about how the human mind is getting tricked and how that is used by magicians. They had an experiment with school children witnessing a (faked) bike theft with one boy (who was initiated on this) engaging the two alleged perpetrators telling them that the bike is his. The two alleged perps shoved him to the ground and went of with the bike.

They then took the testimonies from a few of the children asking them what kind of clothes the two perps had. If weapons had been used and so on. They then showed mugshots to them and they should identify the perps.

The interesting thing is that not one of the eye witnesses was able to recollect the exact event. They couldn't tell the outfits of the perps. One child even saw a knife. They even identified the perps on mugshots even though none of the actual perps mugshots were among the mugshots shown to the witnesses.

So when I remember correct from my psychology lectures back in the days, the human short term memory can only save 5 +/- 2 things. The rest is made up afterwards.

So they ask a cop how this is possible and he explained that very good. So at least they know how reliable a witness testimony is a few days after the crime took place.

Interesting thread that.

Regards Holger