Rui Paulo, of the Psychology Centre for Health and Cognition, discusses his research into improving eyewitness memory recall
Unlike how it is usually portrayed on television, physical and biological evidence is often absent from a crime scene. Because of this, the police may rely on eyewitness testimony, particularly at the early stages of an investigation. However, due to many factors such as perception, attention, and memory, eyewitnesses often commit errors and/or are unable to recall information that could be crucial for the investigation, leading to unsolved crimes or even wrongful convictions (see, for example, the work being done by the Innocence Project)
Nonetheless, the strategies used by the police to collect eyewitnesses’ statements can often either minimize or augment this problem. To give insight into how memory functions, and ultimately develop improved tools for collecting these statements, police have been working with psychologists to develop techniques that increase the amount of accurate information eyewitnesses are able to recall. Interviewing protocols and guidelines, like the Cognitive Interview or the PEACE model, are clear examples of how cognitive psychology research contributes to and enhances police investigations. These models are now widely used by the police (for example, the PEACE model is used by UK police forces). They are, however, not perfect, and witnesses still commit errors and omit information. As part of my work in the PCHC, I am now working to develop and test new retrieval strategies that can further enhance eyewitnesses’ memory.
At this moment, the PCHC are running externally funded research projects focused on further developing clustering retrieval strategies we have created such as Category Clustering Recall (asking witnesses to recall everything they can remember about the crime while organising their recall into broad information categories) and Location Clustering Recall (asking witnesses to recall everything they can remember about the event while focusing on one location at a time).
Amongst other aspects, we are interested in knowing whether variations of these techniques can increase the amount of information eyewitnesses are able to recall and prevent errors that can be potentiated, for instance, by contact with incorrect post-event information.
Find out more
To learn more about Rui's research, and the work of others in the areas of psychology, health and cognition, visit Bath Spa's Psychology Centre for Health and Cognition.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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