Eyewitness memory represents episodic evocation of a dramatic event that someone has witnessed in the past. It is commonly used in the judicial system to provide testimony in legal cases, such as when a witness recounts the details of an incident. The accuracy of eyewitness memory in providing flawless evidence is highly debated in research circles because of the multiple factors involved in an episode of crime. Some scholars have argued that different aspects of extreme events can alter the process of encoding and retrieving information, resulting in distorted memories. This paper reviews two peer-reviewed articles on eye witness testimony with the aim of evaluating the reliability of eye-witness testimony. The malleability of memory contributes significantly to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, but investigators can increase reliability by using uncontaminated eyewitnesses, using fresh witnesses, and tracking metaphysical aspects of the interviewee
The first article documents an in-depth scholarly review on the consistency of eyewitness memory, as reported by Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018). The underlying notion is that eyewitness testimony is unreliable and detrimental to the legal system due to its malleability and the incidence of eyewitness misidentifications. To build the foundation of this statement, the authors refer to four decades of research. The primary focus of their literature review is the flexibility of memory. After recounting the discovery of the plasticity of memory, the authors point to real cases where eyewitness memory has proved to be unreliable. Some of the cited incidences include the repressed-memory epidemic of the 1990s, where adult patients in psychotherapy recovered childhood memories of sexual abuse and a panic over day-care sexual abuse in the 1980s. Both cases were later ascribed to the implantation of false memories. While taking these incidences into account, Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018) argue that eyewitness memory is likely to be unreliable, particularly in cases where criminal investigations contaminate the memory of witnesses. Former cases of eyewitness misidentification offer a solid base for their claim. Even so, the article moves beyond the prevailing verdict of the unreliability to evaluate the reliability principles of forensic evidence, as well as eyewitness identification evidence from recognition and eye witness evidence from police interviews. Ultimately, Wixted and his counterparts deduce that eyewitness memory is reliable only when the investigator eliminates trickery from the questioning process, uses witnesses who have not been exposed to distorted information, probes the witness’ memory for the first time only, remains sensitive to the interviewee’s level of confidence, and monitors how the metacognitive aspects of the eyewitness guide their responses. This deduction implies that eye-witness memory is only reliable in the same way that DNA evidence is consistent. Hence, the reliability of eye-witness memories hinges on testing procedures and levels of contamination.
In the second article, Dahl et al. (2018) present a real-world analysis of eyewitness testimony in a police shooting with the aim of investigating manifestations of temporal and spatial distortions. The fundamental assertion is that eyewitness statements are used regularly in the criminal justice system, and thus, there is a pressing need to assess the reliability of their testimony. Dahl’s analysis involves 13 witnesses, among whom are nine civilians and four police officers. The police had been sent to find a man who had attacked and stabbed two people when the situation escalated into a shooting. According to the findings, witness testimonies differed when it came to specific aspects of the crime. For instance, although eyewitness information regarding the assailant’s movement and armament were consistent, responses relating to the exact shot that sent the assailant to the ground were unreliable. Additionally, eyewitness accounts omitted key legal details from narrations. This hints that eyewitness memory is reliable when general themes are under consideration as opposed to when precise details are in perspective.
The findings of both articles are barely consistent with the Lockean Memory Theory, which maintains that the self is inherently connected to consciousness or memory. According to the theory, the self with which a person identifies persists and extends to memory. Hence, if one can remember an experience, then it is likely that they lived through that experience. This is partly true when we bring the findings of the articles into view. In essence, the study by Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018) indicates that eyewitness memory is reliable when certain conditions are met. Two of the conditions address the level of manipulation that the investigator imposes on the witness. First, the investigator is instructed to circumvent the use of trickery. Perhaps this is because it causes a disconnection between the identity and consciousness of the witness. Second, the investigator is advised to refrain from using witnesses who have consumed contaminated information. In any case, Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018) assert that the investigator is responsible for controlling the reliability of testimony. On the other hand, Dahl et al. (2018) reveal that eyewitness memory is distorted significantly when it comes to minute details of an event. Although inconsistent with Lockean Memory Theory, this conclusion corresponds with that of Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018), who argue that contamination of memory may occur in the within and after an event.
In conclusion, Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018) and Dahl et al. (2018) acknowledge that eyewitness memory is unreliable in legal contexts. However, Wixted, Mickes, & Fisher (2018) notes that unreliability is only observed when certain conditions are not met. The malleability of memory contributes greatly to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. However, investigators can increase reliability by using uncontaminated eyewitnesses, using fresh witnesses, and tracking metaphysical aspects of the interviewee.