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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Eyewitness’ characteristics and memory : an in situ analysis Cutshall, Judith Lynne


An extensive review of eyewitness testimony research reveals that (1) research findings are inconsistent in their assessments of the fallibility of eyewitness memory and in their attempts to delineate the factors which affect eyewitness' memory; (2) the criminal justice system questions the validity of generalizing these research findings to real-world eyewitnessing situations. It is suggested in this thesis that researchers' over-reliance on experimental methodology has led to a confused image of eyewitness' memory which is of questionable relevance to actual eyewitness situations. A non-experimental examination of real-world eyewitnesses is therefore proposed as a first step toward collecting meaningful data relating to eyewitness memory. Two types of non-experimental research are presented in this thesis: archival research and a case study of eyewitnesses to a violent crime. The archival research, which was drawn from R.C.M. Police files, was designed as a means of gathering baseline data concerning actual eyewitnesses, for example, their gender and age and how often they are also victims of crime. The case study involved interviewing thirteen witnesses, all of whom had witnessed the same gunshooting incident. Witnesses were questioned by police at the time of the incident and interviewed by our research team four to five months later. Both statements were analyzed for the number and type of details reported and the accuracy of those details. Higher accuracy rates than those reported in the experimental literature were found in the witnesses' statements both at the time of the incident and several months later. Although the data base established in these studies is insufficient to judge the validity or invalidity of prior eyewitness research, it does appear that experimental research has not appropriately assessed eyewitnessing ability in regard to witnessing a striking, violent real-world event. The generalizability of experimental research to this type of event is therefore highly suspect. It is concluded that the combination of archival and field research will yield the data base needed for developing an understanding of the behaviour of actual eyewitnesses.

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