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Different Interviewing Techniques On Childrens Eyewitness Accounts Psychology Essay

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This study assessed differences in gender performance between males and females for reaction time and error rate on the Directional Stroop Test. To date no study has explored the relationship between gender performance and the Directional Stroop Task, although prior studies have shown that females perform better than males on the Classical Stroop Test. 50 university students (25 males and 25 females) were exposed to 3 stimuli types, in the first they were required to locate the position of the word on the screen by pressing a button to indicate their response, in the second stimuli type participants were required to locate the position of the arrow shown and in the third they were required to select the direction the arrow was pointing in. Findings showed that although females respond faster to the stimuli presented to them and males make fewer errors, overall gender does not have a significant effect on reaction time and error rate.

The Effect of Gender, Arrows and Words on Reaction Time and Error Rate

The Stroop Effect is widely thought to cause interference because the information of one stimuli interferes when a person is trying to process another stimuli. An example of the Classical Stroop Effect is if the word red was presented to a person in the ink colour blue; the person would automatically try to read the word but the task requires for them to read aloud the ink colour the word has been presented in, this causes interference and results in a slower response. Interference is thought to occur because the process involved in naming words is thought to be automatic, compared to the process involved in naming colours or pictures which is thought to require a voluntary effort (as cited in Macleod, 1991).

The famous Classical Stroop effect is named after J. Ridley Stroop who discovered this effect in the 1930s. In Stroop’s first experiment, he observed that his participants were slightly slower when reading words which were printed in an incongruent ink colour, that is to say that the word did not match the ink colour it was printed in, for example the word blue printed in green ink, compared to reading words which were printed in black ink; this is a demonstration of the effects interference can have on reaction time (as cited in Wuhr, 2007).

There have been countless replications in addition to many variations of the Classical Stroop study. In 1977 Wheeler conducted a study in which 36 participants, all of which were college students, were required to first read words aloud and then name the ink colour aloud, they then had to repeat this but indicate their response by pressing buttons. Wheeler found that it took participants twice as long to name ink colours than read the word aloud, however there was no time difference when participants pushed buttons to indicate their responses; interference may occur in the Classical Stroop Test because participants respond verbally (as cited in Wheeler, 1977).

There are two theories which attempt to explain the cause of interference which occurs in the Stroop Effect. The first is Speed of Processing Theory which suggests that words are read faster than colours are named and that because of the speed that we read it makes it difficult for us to name the colour the word is printed in, this difficulty causes interference which effectively results in a slower reaction response or incorrect answer. The second theory is Selective Attention Theory which proposes that naming colours requires more attention than reading words, this may be because people are so fluent at reading and therefore this is more of an automatic process, whereas naming the ink colour of a word is not an activity one comes across everyday and therefore this requires more of our attention (as cited in Stroop, 1935).

The Selective Attention Theory is consistent with the distinction between two basic types of processing information. Schneider and Shriffin suggested that information can be processed either automatically or in a controlled way. Automatic processing is thought to be involuntary, effortless, fast and requires minimal attention, on the other hand controlled processing is thought to be voluntary, relatively slow and requires more effort and attention (as cited in Schenider and Shriffin, 1977). The Stroop Task has achieved broad recognition as a way to differentiate between controlled and automatic processes. As cited in Cothran and Larsen (2008) processing tasks may become automatic from exposure to repeated experiences, these repeated experiences of particular stimuli strengthens the memory representation a person has which eventually leads to less effort and attention being required. Some psychologists have questioned whether interference can be overcome or reduced by practice; in a study by Shor, Hatch, Hudson, Landrigan and Shaffer (1972) researchers observed that interference was still present even after participants had training and practice of between 30-50 days (as cited in Shor, Hatch, Hudson, Landrigan & Shaffer, 1972). However, in another study researchers found that older and younger participants displayed a decrease in interference for the colour-word Stroop test after humdreds of practice trials, although older participants consistently displayed greater interference effect throughout the practice compared to younger participants (as cited in Davidson, Zack & Williams 2003).

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The type of Stroop variation which has been developed for this study is the Directional Stroop, an example of this is if the word “right” was presented on the left hand side of a screen and the participants were asked to locate the position of the word whilst ignoring its content. One of the first studies investigating the Directional Stroop Effect was conducted by Shor (1970,1971) who in the first condition inserted the words left, right, up and down into arrows, which were pointing in the directions named but were not congruent to the name in the arrow, for example, an arrow may be pointing right but it will have the word “left” embedded into it. Shor observed that interference was present when participants identified the words with a manual response, but not when they identified the words with a vocal response. In the second condition of the study Shor only used arrows and observed that interference was present when participants identified the arrows using both manual and vocal responses, but this interference was small in relation to the Classical Stroop. This study also indicates the importance of the type of stimuli being used in studies, arrows have produced interference for both manual and vocal responses compared to arrows which have directional words embedded into them (as cited in Baldo, Shimamura & Prinzmetal 1998).

Furthermore, in a study by Clarke and Brownell (1975) participants were asked to decide whether arrows were pointing either up or down whilst positioned inside a rectangle; in a study by White (1969) participants were asked to name the position of the words North, East, South and West inside a rectangle; both studies found similar results to Shor, with small but reliable interference.

There have been many studies which have included variations within the Directional Stroop Test (Greenwald 1977; Dyer 1972; Pieters 198; Roefols, Turrenout & Coles 2006). In studies done by Seymour (1973/1974) and Palef and Olsen (1975) participants were asked to name the locations of words in relation to a fixation point, both studies noted that interference was present (as cited in MacLeod, 1991).

Many studies have also looked at the link between gender and Stroop performance. Even before the Stroop task, a psychologist named Ligon (1932) claimed that girls were able to name colours faster than boys, although he did not note any difference in their word-reading speed ability (as cited in MacLeod, 1991). This claim may be supported by some of the findings that researchers have discovered in their studies; one study found that females performed better than males on 2 colour card tests (Golden 1974), another study found that females gave a significantly higher performance than males after both sexes completed the colour-word test 5 times (as cited in Sarmany, 1977).

According to Baroun (2006) females have been found to have an advantage over males for colour recognition and have been reported to be quicker at reacting to Stroop tasks; another psychologist suggested that this may be due to the general response speed females have (as cited in Jensen, 1965). Other psychologists such as Shen (2005) suggested that males take a longer than females on the Stroop task because males have a different cognitive strategy to females (as cited in Shen, 2005).

There has always been controversy over whether there are differences in gender performance on the Stroop test and many studies have attempted to test whether differences in gender performance exist or not. In a study by Baroun and Alansari (2004) 210 university students took part in the Stroop test, 96 were male and 114 were female, although Baroun and Alansari found that Kuwaiti students (140 of the participants) had greater interference than British students (70 of the participants), no gender differences were observed for Stroop interference (as cited in Baroun & Alansari, 2004). However in 2006, a study by the same researchers found differences in gender performance in Kuwaiti males and females on the Stroop test, researchers found that Kuwaiti females were faster on the colour card Stroop than Kuwaiti males (as cited in Baroun & Alansari, 2006).

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The dependant variables for this study are reaction time and error rate and it is important to research what previous investigators have found in relation to reaction time and error rate, as this provides valuable contributions as to what should be expected. Mekarski, Cutmore and Suboski (1996) tested 6 males and 8 females in a Stroop test in which reaction time and error rate was measured. Researchers found that males were consistently slower than females but error rates did not differ significantly (as cited in Mekarski, Cutmore & Suboski, 1996). Boyden and Gilpin (1798) established that errors made on 2 tests were correlated positively for males but not for females, they indicated that this may be due to males being linked distractability and being impulsive. Many psychologists have suggested that although females may be faster in naming colours for the Stroop Test this does not relate to the measuring of interference (as cited in Macleod, 1991).

As mentioned previously the type of stimuli used in studies is important. In one study 36 undergraduate students were required to respond to one stimulus whilst ignoring another, so if presented with an arrow participants were required to ignore the word stimuli, and if presented with a word then they were required to ignore the arrow stimuli. Researchers found greater interference for participants when they responded manually to the word stimuli whilst ignoring the arrow stimuli as well as when they responded vocally to the arrow stimuli whilst ignoring the word stimuli. Although interference was present for both types of stimuli the magnitude of interference seems to be dependent on response modalities; vocal or manual (as cited in Baldo, Shimamura & Prinzmetal 1998).

Many of the studies investigating the effects of gender performance that have been discussed have tested reaction time but not error rate. This study has been carried out because there is a lack of studies investigating the difference in gender performance for the Directional Stroop, although there are handfuls which have done so for the Classical Stroop. This study aims to explore the Directional Stroop Effect using words and pictorial targets in the form of arrows and its effect on reaction time and error rate between males and females. This study will examine whether interference occurs in participants for both words and pictorial targets and whether gender has any effect on reaction time and error rate. The hypothesis for this study is that there will be a significant difference in performance between males and females, which will be measured by reaction time and error rate. A further hypothesis being tested is that stimuli type will effect reaction time and error rate.



The participants used for this study were 50 University of Greenwich students (25 males and 25 females) who were obtained through stratified random sampling method; a sampling method which allows individuals to be equally selected for participation therefore reducing bias, but also selecting individuals who belong to a certain sub-group, this study only required 25 males and 25 females. This study was conducted in the U.K.


The materials used for this study include a borrowed laptop from the University of Greenwich with the software application Superlab. Superlab is an effective application for presenting visual stimuli on the screen, and was used in this study to present word and arrow stimuli in addition to recording the reaction time and error rates of participants to explore the performance level between males and females.


This is a quantitative study and a repeated measures design was used to reduce individual differences and test the effect of 3 factors at the same time. The independent variables are gender and stimuli; gender has 2 levels (male and female) and stimuli has 3 levels (word-location, arrow-location, arrow-direction). The dependent variables for this study are reaction time (in milliseconds) and error rate. This study has used a correlation analysis which describes how one variable relates to another, in this study we are looking at whether gender has an effect on the reaction time and error rate of participants performance and whether stimuli type can affect reaction time and error rate.

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Participants were first given an information sheet detailing the procedure of what they would have to do and any ethical risks involved in the study and were then asked to sign the consent form declaring that they had read and understood the details of the study. To maintain confidentiality of records participants were asked to invent a personal code, known only to them and which would be used to identify their data should they choose to remove it. Each participant’s personal code was entered into Superlab before they started their study to ensure that data recorded concerning their reaction time and error rate would be saved under their personal code. Participants were informed that there would first be a practice session to ensure they understood what to do; the practice session consisted of 2 slides, after the practice session participants began with the first condition of the study which was responding to where the location of a word on the screen was by pressing a button. The words used in this study were up, down, left and right; participants were presented with a RB-530 response pad (see appendix a) which they used to indicate their responses. The second condition of the study was responding to where the location of an arrow was on the screen by press the correct button on the response pad and the third condition was participants responding to the direction in which the arrow on the screen was pointing; each of the conditions consisted of 10 slides, participants reaction time was measured from when the stimuli appears on the screen to when participants press any button. After the experiment participants were provided with a debrief sheet containing details of what the study was investigating and contact details of the investigator.


The raw data (Appendix B) was analysed using PASW Statistics 17. A mixed design was performed on reaction time and error rate separately. The between subject factor was gender (male/female) and the within subject factor was stimuli (word-location/arrow-location/arrow-direction).


The results show that females have performed faster and made fewer errors for the word-location stimuli compared to males, similarly males have performed faster and made fewer errors for the arrow-direction stimuli. However, arrow-location is the stimuli in which both males and females have scored high, one of each dependant variable; males made the least errors but females gave the fastest responses. Results also show that stimuli type affects participants reaction time significantly, but does not have a significant effect on error rate, additionally results showed a weak stimuli X gender interaction on reaction time in particular and a significant stimuli X gender interaction on error rate, however gender alone does not seem to have a significant effect on reaction time or error rate.

The results from this study indicate that overall women respond faster to the Directional Stroop and that males and females do not differ significantly in terms of error rate. The findings show that arrow-direction is the stimuli in which participants take the longest to respond and also tend to make the most errors, this may be explained by the Selective Attention Theory, which may suggest that naming the direction of an incongruent arrow may require more attention as the participants have to focus on the point of the arrow, compared to naming the location which does not require as much focus on the stimuli, but more on its location on the screen.

Many psychologists and studies (Ligon 1932; Golden 1974; Sarmany 1977; von Kluge 1992; Baroun 2006; Baroun & Alansari 2006) have previously implied that females respond faster than males, additionally Jensen (1965) proposed that this may be because of the general response speed females have. The results from this study are similar to the findings in the study performed by Mekarski, Cutmore and Suboski (1996) who found that males responded slower but there were no significant differences between males and female for error rate. The results for the present study show that overall females responded the fastest and males made the fewest errors.

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50 University of Greenwich students were used as participants for this study and 50 participants can be assumed to be a small and unrepresentative sample of the general population. For future studies a larger sample could be collected and participants could be selected for their age as well as their gender, age would be interesting variable to examine and investigate how people from different age groups differ in performance.

This study took place in the U.K. and therefore lacks in ecological validity, the participants from this study were all obtained from the U.K. and were all volunteers therefore it is difficult to draw up appropriate conclusions about cause and effect relationships because the findings from this study may not be generalisable to people from other countries. Baroun and Alansari (2004) found that Kuwaiti students displayed greater interference than British students, this is a good example of how the present study may not be generalisable to other people. However, the study Baroun and Alansari conducted in 2006 did find similar results to the present study; females were reported to respond quicker to the stimulus presented to them than males, therefore there may be certain variables which have been found world-wide and others which still need to be investigated. The experiment also lacks ecological validity because it was not a realistic situation, people would not usually press buttons on a response pad indicating their answers to what they see on a laptop screen.

In this study all the participants started with the word-location stimuli and then moved to the arrow-location stimuli and then finally finished with the arrow-direction stimuli, this may have led to the order of stimuli being confounded. Participants have been reported to respond slowest and make the most errors to the arrow-direction stimulus, but participants may have been affected by an extraneous variable which may have effectively slowed down their reaction time and therefore affected their results. Extraneous variables are situations or factors which can have an impact on participants performance and results. In future replications of this study the order of presenting stimuli could be counterbalanced which is a method used to avoid the confounding of variables. Participants could be divided into different groups and each group could be shown the stimuli in a different order.

Before the actual experiment started, participants were given the opportunity to experience a practice session, however as this practice session was only 2 slides long and only used the word-location stimuli participants may not have understood or had the chance to properly understand what they were asked to do. For future replications of this study it can be suggested that participants experience at least 2 slides of each stimuli type which they will be presented to them in the real experiment so that they can actually practice properly and have have a real opportunity to understand what there are being instructed to do.

Another limitation of this study is that slides showing each stimuli one by one flows straight to the next one as soon as the participant presses a button on their response pad. Participants are informed at the beginning of the study that they must try to respond as quickly as they can, and in haste some participants may have missed the slide which describes the next set of instructions for the next stimuli type. Due to this error participants may respond slowly because they are suddenly exposed to an arrow instead of a word which they have been exposed to in the previous slides, in addition to this if participants miss the slide informing them to switch from selecting the location of the arrow to the direction the arrow is pointing in then they may make errors, which may as a result be due to misunderstanding of instructions. It may be more effective if after every stimuli type is presented there is either a loud beep sound indicating the start of a new stimuli type or for each stimuli type to be opened in a separate window as to avoid any confusion. Future replications should also include congruent stimuli to begin with so that reaction time and possibly error rate can be compared to when participants are shown uncongruent stimuli.

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Unfortunately the eye-sight of participants were never tested before the study therefore there is no guarantee of whether any of the participants were long sighted and may have had difficulty viewing what was on the screen. Although the words and pictorial targets used were of a large size, future studies should ensure a check-up of participants eye-sight before the study to ensure that this variable does not affect the outcome of the results.

As discovered in the study conducted by Baldo, Shimamura and Prinzmetal (1998) response modalities can have a great impact on the amount of interference observed. Future studies into gender and the Directional Stroop could use both manual and vocal responses from participants, this would help expand knowledge on how type of response could affect interference. In addition to this the present study presented words and pictorial targets separately, future replications could include a condition which presents words and pictorial targets combined as well as separate.

This study used a quantitative design method which is statistically reliable as well as replicable. However the results provided are also likely to be limited as they provide a less descriptive and detailed account of the actual human behaviour which takes place during interference for the Stroop test. It is believed that for this study a quantitative approach was the right design method, there are no studies which could be found, which have investigated gender and its effect on reaction time and error rate for the Directional Stroop therefore any future psychologists who wish to investigate these variables and effects further will be able to easily replicate the methods used for this study.

A future replication of the Directional Stroop Effect could use a matched pairs design in which group one are tested as if they are taking the hazard perception practice section of a driving test, participants would need to locate the uncongruent directional words and pictorial targets, which could be in the form of an arrow or other road signs. The second group of the matched pairs design study would also need to locate the same uncongruent directional words and pictorial targets but would also have a distractor task such as trying to text someone from a mobile phone at the same time they are locating the uncongruent stimuli. This type of study should be able to provide some insight into the type of interference drivers experience and which type of distractors, such as making a call, sending a text message to someone, or even applying make-up, cause the most accidents or interference.

In conclusion, the results support the hypothesis that stimuli type affects reaction time, although stimuli type does not seem to have any affect on the error rate of participants. In consistency with some previous studies (Merkarski, Cutmore & Suboski 1996; Baroun & Alansari 2004) the results from the present study has found that females respond faster than males, which may be explained by Jensen (1965) who suggests that this is possibly related to the general response speed of females. Results also show that males make fewer errors than females, however there is no overall significant difference between gender performance for the Directional Stroop Effect.


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It has been established that children, in general, provide less accurate and complete responses to specific questions as compared to adults. This has led to concerns about the reliability of response in real life investigations. While the basic memory literature suggests that repeated testing can actually have a beneficial effect, there is still much concern among scholars as to the effects of repeatedly interviewing an eyewitness, especially a child. Public and professional opinion about the credibility of children as witnesses in court cases has been sharply divided (Saywitz & Camparo, 2009). In this paper, a review of the scientific literature relevant to the topic of child witnesses in the criminal and civil courts is conducted. A look into significant court cases and decisions followed by previous research will be examined to reach the conclusions that more research in this area is needed, however, ultimately, children are an extremely important factor in court cases involving eyewitness testimony and under certain presumptions can result in being suggested and manipulated based on specific elements in forensic interviews.

During the 1980s, there was a massive alteration in society’s understanding to and acknowledgment of the problems of violence and exploitation that were undergone by children. Incited by an increased alertness of the prevalence of child sexual abuse, state after state reviewed and changed its criminal procedures to permit prosecutors to handle more proficiently with victims and defendants. All of these changes and cases were instrumental in leading to the significant changes that were made in the legal system. “These changes included allowing children to provide uncorroborated testimony in cases concerning sexual abuse, and the elimination of the competency requirement for child witnesses” (Bruck & Ceci, 1999, p. 420). With a relaxation of standards in the courts, there has come an increase in the amount of children who provide statements in legal cases. In addition to the vast amount of children who have now given testimony and unsworn statements in a variety of contexts, civil and family courts also began to flood with child testimony. Therefore, the question of whether children’s statements and testimony are reliable has resulted in an increase of significance in recent years to the courts, forensic professionals, police officers, and many similar fields of study.

Whether or not these children’s testimony is true or false is still a common question surrounding the debate of whether children can be reliable and accurate in their statements. However, when one looks back to the 1980s, a sensational number of cases passed through the courts that raised serious and fundamental concerns about the reliability of children’s statements. In many of these ‘daycare abuse hysteria’ cases, young children claimed that they were being abused by mostly daycare workers in the most of bizarre ways. The claims were often eccentric, involving reports of ritualistic abuse, multiple perpetrators and victims, some demonic claims, and torture. Without much corroborating evidence to back up these children’s claims, many mental health professionals and police officers believed such claims. In the subsequent legal proceedings, the major issue before the Judge and jury was whether to believe these children. “Prosecutor’s argued that children do not lie about sexual abuse that their reports were authentic, and that there bizarre and chilling accounts of events substantiated the fact that the children had actually been brutally victimized” (Bruck, Ceci, & Hembrooke, 2002, p. 521). On the other hand, the defense was arguing that these children’s statement were merely the product of repeated suggestive interviews by parents, law enforcement, social workers, etc. many of these cases, however, did end in convictions as people were mesmerized by the lack of support or evidence and with the common belief that children do not lie when it comes to sexual abuse.

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So many years later now, social scientists have developed a sociological and psychological understanding of the possible factors that might influence children’s testimony in such cases. More specifically, there has been a rapid increase in research on children’s memories. Many of these studies highlight the weaknesses of their memories, paying attention to how children’s memories can be molded and changed by certain techniques and suggestion.

In this paper, a review of the scientific literature relevant to the topic of child witnesses in the criminal and civil courts is conducted. A quick first look into the series of cases and statutes that have been ruled on relevant to children who become involved in the US court process will be illustrated. Secondly, a review of some of the studies conducted on eyewitness memories and testimony over time will be examined. Thirdly, a look into some of the more common and influential techniques of suggestion and interviewing techniques and responses and their effects on how children respond will be undertaken. Finally, a preview into the effects that suggestive interviews have on children’s credibility and with the courts will cover. All this for the search of whether suggestibility and repeated questioning does or does not affect children’s eyewitness accounts and testimony and its meaning for the courts.

Legal Issues

It is basic common knowledge within the legal system that eyewitness testimony can make or break a case. Prosecutors often rely on it in assisting to persuade the jury. However, for the same amount of time, professionals in psychology have been on the other side, debating whether those who assist with testimony of eyewitness accounts can truly be reliable and accurate regarding what their memories are telling them. This has even been a constitution matter, with the Supreme Court ruling over some important cases with significant decisional outcomes in eyewitness matters.

In the court case of Watkins v. Sowders, the courts addressed the issue of “whether a State criminal trial court is constitutionally compelled to conduct a hearing outside the presence of the jury whenever a defendant contends that a witness’ identification of the defendant was conducted improperly” (Watkins v. Sowders, 1980). At Watkins appeal, his attorney once again argued that the trial court had a constitutional obligation to perform a hearing without the jury to determine if the identification evidence was admissible. Watkins has been convicted of the robbery of a liquor store based on identifications of two store employees. The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected this argument. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment and, like the district court, ruled that a hearing on the admissibility of identification evidence need not be held outside the presence of the jury. “The U.S. Supreme Court determined that although a judicial determination regarding the admissibility of identification evidence outside the jury’s presence may be advisable, the U.S. Constitution does not require a per se rule compelling such a procedure in every case” (Watkins v. Sowders, 1980).

Although it has been observed, by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in his dissent to Watkins v. Sowders, that witness testimony is evidence that “juries seem most receptive to, and not inclined to discredit”, Justice Brennan also observed that “At least since United States v. Wade, 388 U. S. 218 (1967), the Court has recognized the inherently suspect qualities of eyewitness identification evidence, and described the evidence as ‘notoriously unreliable’”. Historically, eyewitness testimony had what Justice Brennan described as “a powerful impact on juries”, who noted in his dissent that “all the evidence points rather strikingly to the conclusion that there is almost nothing more convincing [to a jury] than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says ‘That’s the one!’” (Watkins V. Sowders).

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“The legal standards addressing the treatment of eyewitness testimony as evidence in criminal trials vary widely across the United States on issues ranging from the admissibility of eyewitness testimony as evidence, the admissibility and scope of expert testimony on the factors affecting its reliability, and the propriety of jury instructions on the same factors” (Gaulkin, 2010, p. 7). In New Jersey, a court that is typically considered a leader regarding criminal law, a report was organized during a custody proceeding in the case of New Jersey v. Henderson which heard expert testimony with respect to eyewitness identification and looked into published literature on the subject (Gaulkin, 2010). In New Jersey v. Henderson a decision was reached stating that closer examination on the reliability of eyewitness testimony needs to occur throughout all the trial courts of New Jersey. Further, in Perry v. New Hampshire (2011), a case which raised similar issues to the New Jersey case, a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (Weiser, 2011) came down in an 8-1 stand, holding that judicial examination of eyewitness testimony was required only in the case of police misconduct. Perry v. New Hampshire was a United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of eyewitness identifications.

Held: The Due Process Clause does not require a preliminary judicial inquiry into the reliability of eyewitness identification when the identification was not procured under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances arranged by law enforcement (Perry v. New Hampshire, 2012).

The preeminent role of the jury in evaluating questionable evidence was cited by the court (Liptak, 2012).

In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Manson v. Brathwaite (1977), a federal standard was set forth which stated that this due process statute would govern the admissibility of eyewitness evidence. Under the federal standard, “if an identification procedure is shown to be unnecessarily suggestive, the court must consider whether certain independent factors of reliability are present, and if so, weigh those factors against the corrupting effect of the flawed police procedure” (Liptak, 2012, p. 6). Within that framework, the court should determine whether, under the ‘totality of the circumstances’, the identification appears to be reliable. If not, the identification evidence must be excluded. In this case, after reviewing the specific facts of the case, the totality of circumstances showed no considerable likeliness of irrevocable misidentification. This case was based on two undercover police officers attempting to make a drug buy for narcotics but using that reasoning to really identify the seller for purposes of charging him. Therefore the evidence should not be excluded. The Court noted “that (for example) if the identification had been made months later (instead of days), then maybe the totality of the circumstances would warrant exclusion” (Liptak, 2012, p. 8). It is the defendant’s burden to show that the pre-indictment identification progression was unnecessarily suggestive and that there was substantial likelihood of ‘irreparable misidentification’ (Manson v. Brathwaite, 1977).

Detailed jury instructions are often proposed by the defense as a tool to even out any unfair or biased reliance on eyewitness testimony, when certain elements that undermine its reliability are present in a particular case. However, in many states, the courts have prohibited such instructions detailing any eyewitness reliability factors but instead allow some form of generic instructions. Others, on the other hand, find that these detailed instructions on specific factors are crucial to a fair trial. “California allows instructions when police procedures are in conflict with established best practices, for example, and New Jersey mandates an instruction on the cross-race effect when the identification is central to the case and uncorroborated by other evidence” (Liptak, 2012, p. 3).

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a high-profile and precedent-setting decision in August (State v. Henderson), commented that “virtually all of the scientific evidence” that has emerged in recent decades “reveals that an array of variables can affect and dilute memory and lead to misidentifications.” That court, as a result, adopted new procedures, including new pre-trial hearings to examine those “variables” when there is some evidence that the circumstances under which the witness made his or her observation were “suggestive” – that is, the identification was in some ways induced either by police or by circumstances – and it also crafted more detailed forms of instructions to help jurors evaluate such testimony more carefully (Zaragoza et al., 2005).

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In the case of Perry v. New Hampshire, the U.S. Supreme Court returned to the evidence controversy, in an extremely particular way. The Justices are deciding over the issue of whether the Constitution requires courts to make a more thorough inquiry into the reliability of eyewitness testimony only when it was police manipulation that made the eyewitness identification “suggestive,” or whether such an inquiry is required any time there is evidence suggesting that the witness made the observation amid circumstances that were “suggestive.”

This is an issue that arises under the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process.” The Supreme Court has always evaluated eyewitness testimony from the perspective of whether the evidence was reliable, to assure that the evidence that the jury evaluates has integrity. As the Court remarked in 1967, “what is at stake when an eyewitness picks out a suspect as the perpetrator is whether that identification can ‘derogate from a fair trial’” (Zaragoza et al, 2005). It was pointed out that this particular scenario can result from a ‘suggestive’ identification. The Court commented that “suggestion can be created intentionally or unintentionally in many subtle ways. And the dangers for the suspect are particularly grave when the witness’ opportunity for observation was insubstantial, and thus his susceptibility to suggestion the greatest” (U.S. v. Wade).

Forensics and studies

Children’s involvement in the judicial process, either as victims/witnesses in criminal cases or as participants in civil proceedings, is often accompanied by questions of their competency and reliability as witnesses (Ceci & Bruck, 1995). Research related to the reliability of children’s testimony has focused primarily on children’s memory and specifically on their ability to accurately recall and report information as well as on their susceptibility to suggestion (suggestibility). In examining the accuracy of children’s testimony, one must consider the relationship between the strengths and limitations of the child as well as characteristics of the interview and of the environment in which questioning occurs, rather than viewing witness competency and reliability as a sole function of the child (Saywitz, 1995).

Many professionals across different fields such as psychology and the social sciences have long assumed that the use of any type of suggestion during a forensic interviews are, and have been, a major source and cause of wrongful convictions and general inaccuracies in eyewitness testimony. Basically, it has been established that children, in general, provide less accurate and complete responses to specific questions as compared to adults for example. This has led to concerns about the reliability of responses in real life investigations. While the basic memory literature suggests that repeated testing (as opposed to saying repeated questioning) can actually have a beneficial effect, however, there is still much concern among professionals as to the effects of repeatedly interviewing an eyewitness, especially a child witness. The main studies that have paved the way for such research have pinpointed a few strong areas in which concern for these effects is illustrated and demonstrated. For one, a juror may wonder why a fact wasn’t included in some earlier testimony and may think it was, thus, planted or ‘suggested’ in the witness memory (Cederborg, Rooy, & Lamb, 2008). The perceived credibility of testimony may also be influenced by consistency in responses to repeat questions even with such evidence and consistency and accuracy having no relationships at all. Finally, it has been assumed that answers to repeat questioning will be less accurate than original answers because witnesses react to the social pressure of repeated questions by offering speculative responses.

It really wasn’t until Elizabeth Loftus issued an extremely prominent series of studies on eyewitness suggestibility in the 1970s that a methodical form of scientific writings on this topic started to develop. Since then, hundreds of experiential studies on eyewitness suggestibility have been circulated, all of them variations of the basic experimental model that Loftus established. In the early 1970s, research and theorizing about memory was based almost exclusively on studies of memory for simple processes. “By studying memory for complex, fast-moving, and forensically relevant events (typically depicted in film clips or slide shows), Loftus demonstrated that it was possible to conduct well-controlled experiments that were high in ecological validity” (Zaragoza et al, 1995, p. 370). Loftus’ experiments and findings conveyed strong evidence that suggestive interviews can lead to extreme mistakes in eyewitness testimony, thus bringing out serious inquiries about the reliability of memory and eyewitness testimony. Of immense importance here, Loftus’ work recognized that scientific investigation on memory and suggestibility can and should advise the courts.

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In her ‘experimental paradigm’, “participants view a slide sequence depicting a complex and forensically relevant event, such as a traffic accident or theft. Immediately thereafter, participants are questioned about the event they witnessed” (Loftus, 1999, p. 60). The relevance and significance of this set-up is the manipulation, which uses questioning techniques that include misleading or leading data given to participants. Eventually, partakers are assessed on their memories for the witnessed event. The variable that is of most importance to these studies is the degree to which misled applicants integrate the misleading suggestions into their eyewitness reports.

Early demonstrations of the effects of leading questions revealed several ways in which eyewitness reports could be influenced. Small changes in answers given from what they actually observed were common, along with specific details in certain cases. Another effect that was noticed was when the participants observed one tangible distinction in a study, like color, but after were told it was actually a different possible color, the mislead information brought out answers that most frequently included a blending of the two possibilities they had seen and heard. Finally, other similar studies demonstrated the ability to misled participants regarding entire objects that were never present but they were led to believe the objects were present (Loftus, 1999).

An important point to be made about Loftus and her studies was in the studies illustrating misinformation and relevancy to courtroom situations. These studies further demonstrated that misinformation was “more likely to influence later testimony when the false information appeared as a presupposition, rather than the direct focus of the question” (Loftus, 2007, p. 7). For example, participants who were directly asked “Did you see a barn in the film?” were much less likely to later claim they had seen a barn than those who’d answered the previous question where the presence of the barn was presupposed (Loftus, 2007).

The “misinformation effect” documented by Loftus (2007), is one of the best-known and most influential findings in psychology. Through the developed misinformation effect paradigm, which demonstrated that the memories of eyewitnesses are altered after being exposed to incorrect information about an event and that memory is highly malleable and open to suggestion (Loftus & Geis, 2009) The misinformation effect became one of the most influential and widely known effects in psychology (Loftus & Geis, 2009), and Loftus’ early work on the effect generated hundreds of follow-up studies examining factors that improve or worsen the accuracy of memories, and to explored the cognitive mechanisms underlying the effect. Demonstrations of the surprising ease with which people could be led to report objects and events they had not seen challenged prevailing views about the validity of memory and raised serious concerns about the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Overall, research suggests that there have been three very significant changes in the direction of the somewhat newer research in children’s eyewitness accounts, memory, and suggestibility. For one, younger and younger aged children are being included in the newer studies. Another change is the focus on suggestibility of children, especially when it comes to more salient events that personally affect the child. Finally, the concept of suggestibility and suggestive techniques has been expanded from the traditional view of asking misleading questions or planting the wrong information to using a wider range of interviewing devices that were adapted from actual forensic and therapeutic interviews where children had made allegations towards certain crimes such as abuse.

In some studies, an exploration of the different circumstances in which using repeated questions on children would influence their memory was conducted. They use children of certain ages and after they witness a predetermined event, they are individually interviewed with closed and open type questioning, and also using a free recall test. Based on these studies, the conclusions were that “if closed questions are repeated in a witness interview it may lead to the witness incorrectly assuming that their first response was incorrect; however the findings support the use of repeated questioning as a probe for more information to open-ended questions” (Memon &Vartoukieun, 1996, p. 403).

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Another such study based its main focus on other studies researched and examined prior to conducting their own study, on child suggestibility. It indicated that children can easily be led by adults and even recount events that never actually happened, given the suggestions inherent in certain interview questions. Wishing to investigate children’s answers to suggestive questions asked by adult interviewers, they conducted a study using a couple of different aged group children and had them witness an event during their class at school. After exactly one week, they were interviewed to determine what they could recall and its accuracy. The authors assume from their research that it is often the case that a cause of child suggestibility can be ascribed to the actual questions adults will ask them. They state that, “questions serve not only to acquire new knowledge, but to influence answers as well, to persuade and to make others say what one wants them to say” (Gulotta & Ercolin, 2002, p. 312). Aside from suggestibility, they also talk about the importance of repeated interviews and how they really can have either a positive or a negative effect on testimony and memory. For example, in some cases, repeating the information helps remember certain details, however, it can also lead children to believe that their first answer was incorrect and so they alter their original statement to try to make it right in their minds. This particular study actually found no significant differences between ages and reliability or correctness of the eyewitness accounts of children (Gulotta, & Ercolin, 2002).

Other studies have attempted to demonstrate how misleading suggestions can impair recollections. Evidence has proven that subjects who experience the three-stage procedure for eyewitness susceptibility to misleading questions most commonly used in research, often error on misled items such as event details when misleading suggestions are given, than on controlled items. Lindsay (1998) explains that this phenomenon is well established, however, its interpretation is not. Two main areas of concern are whether suggestions impair subject’s ability to remember event details and whether subjects actually believe they saw the suggested details. Lindsay (1998) defines demand characteristics as “referring to any judgment process that would lead subjects to base their test responses on information they know was obtained from the narrative” (p. 1077). These types of study designs have used factors and practices set up for determining the extent to which demand characteristics contribute to an effect. So, basically, they studies look at the ability to remember the source of suggested details set in opposition to the tendency to report those suggestions (Lindsay, 1998).

It is in my own personal feelings that eyewitness testimony, following from these studies, can be very effective and reliable if the circumstances are used correctly. By this I refer to refraining from unduly used suggestibility and sticking to a formatted forensic interview, standardized for similar situations. Professionals must take care not to bias the interviews and ask certain leading questions, as evidence has continuously proven that such measures do, in many cases, affect the memory and thus the reliability of such testimony.


When expert testimony on the suggestibility of children is offered, the court must consider whether the research the expert will discuss sufficiently fits the facts of the case to be helpful to the jury. Jurors are likely to be influenced by expert testimony even if it fails to fit the facts of the case, in part because they are less adept at detecting a lack of accuracy or honesty, and in part because they naturally assume that an expert testifying for the defense is sympathetic to the defense. Moreover, unlike cases involving adult eyewitnesses, most jurors come to court ready to doubt the reliability of a child witness.

“The child witness presents a double bind for those conducting a forensic interview. Young children produce a higher percentage of accurate and relevant information in a free recall situation in which they are merely asked to tell in their words everything they remember, without prompts, cues, or suggestions. However, preschoolers produce little or no information when simply asked to ‘tell us what you remember.’ The aggravation of this situations stems from the demonstrated inability of these very young children to use .questions posed to them as clues to what additional information is needed.” (Wise & Safer, 2006, p.59).

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Most interrogative experiences that children have outside the legal system are not carefully evaluated for consistency or truth value. The adult who asks questions such as “What happened at daycare today?” have a “script” in mind of what occurs during the typical event. Anything the child says that fits the script goes unchallenged. It is usually not important to the adult questioner “whether the child played with Legos today or on some other day, or whether the child played with Legos himself or watched a peer play with them. Courtroom communication differs from everyday conversation in that it is designed to promote shared context to a very high degree” (p. 61). The codes and statutes are available for everyone to read. Evidence is shared through discovery (Wise & Safer, 2006).

Transcripts of depositions and in court testimony include numerous examples of exchanges in which children fail to recognize potential ambiguity. For instance, children often answer embedded questions such as, “Did you or did you not…?” with “Yes” or “No.” “Children try to answer the questions that are posed to them, even when they are not precisely sure what information is being requested. In such situations, the miscommunication problem can be masked by the adult assumption that what people say is going to be relevant. Most conversational responses could be interpreted in a variety of ways if they were context free” (Wise & Safer, 2006, p. 67). The success of communication requires that we interpret what is said as if it is relevant in the present dialogue context. If the context of very young children is characteristically deviating from the adult context, that interpretation may be in error.


Studies have displayed with particular importance, the determination of judges’ knowledge about a wide range of factors and procedures that affect eyewitness accuracy. Research has also shown that expert testimony is the only legal safeguard that is effective in sensitizing jurors to eyewitness factors. Nonetheless, the most common reason judges give for excluding eyewitness expert testimony at trial is that the expert’s testimony is within the knowledge of the jury and, therefore, “would not assist the trier of fact.”

So basically, there is a need to assist in identifying some of the elements of eyewitness testimony where judges need additional training. There is also a need for some indication of how accurately judges perceive jurors’ knowledge of eyewitness testimony, and how easily judges are in allowing legal safeguards, including expert testimony. A main problem with simple experts testifying is that they often make open and wide ranging claims about the unreliability of children, or report the results of research without describing the methodology or the possible limits of the research’s applicability to the real world.

Consider one of the most often cited studies demonstrating the suggestibility of children-the Sam Stone study, which was published in Developmental Psychology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Psychological Association. The study showed that a combination of suggestive “interviewing techniques led 72% of younger children to assert falsely that a stranger named Sam Stone had come to their preschool and committed various misdeeds” (Saywitz & Camparo, 2009, p. 109). Children often exaggerated their false accounts with sensory details and nonverbal gestures, making their reports highly credible. Experts often cite the study as evidence that children can be led to make false yet highly convincing allegations of sexual abuse.

Closer examination reveals the lengths to which the researchers worked to obtain false reports, and the extent to which false allegations of sexual abuse are less likely in the real world. One of the suggestive techniques the researchers used was “stereotype induction,” which they analogized to negative statements that adults might make about an ex-spouse. “Researches assistants visited each child on four consecutive weeks before Sam Stone came to the preschool, and provided the child with details of 12 different misdeeds that the assistants had purportedly witnessed Sam perform. Sam Stone’s visit was two minutes long, and he did not interact with individual children” (Saywitz & Camparo, 2009, p. 109). Another suggestive technique the researchers used was suggestive questioning.

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“For four weeks after Sam’s visit, an interviewer questioned each child each week. In the first interview, the interviewer showed the child a soiled teddy bear and a ripped book and asked the child to speculate who might have done it. In the next three interviews the interviewer asked a series of highly suggestive questions. These questions presupposed that Sam Stone had ripped the book or soiled the teddy bear, did not give the child an opportunity to deny that he had done so, and asked the child to choose among details of the fictitious events. Ten weeks later, all children were interviewed in a non-leading fashion. At that time, 72% of the three and four year olds implicated Sam in one or both misdeeds” (Saywitz & Camparo, 2009, p. 110).

The Sam Stone study illustrates a number of important facts about suggestibility research. First, there are large age differences in

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