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Testimony as communication: An interactive analysis of eyewitness accuracy cues
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2009 (English)Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Studies have shown that descriptions of real and suggested or fabricated eyewitness memory may differ in ways that could be explained by differences in the formation and cognitive representations of these memories. However, the characteristics of an eyewitness’ description are likely to depend not only on the cognitive features of memory, but also on the witness’ social motivation to display meta-cognitive states to the investigator. For example, when a response to a question is delayed, this delay is open to several interpretations. It may mean that the respondent a) have difficulty understanding the question b) is retrieving the information c) is formulating her response d) is withdrawing from the interaction. To prevent misunderstanding, respondents need to account for their delays, uncertainties, and failures in answering. Linguistic research shows that when responding to general knowledge questions, people do this by using several markers (Brennan & Williams, 1995; Krahmer & Swerts, 2005; Smith & Clark, 1993). Respondents often use fillers like “uh” and “um” to indicate some trouble with processing. The fillers both signal the delay and offer a brief account for it.

Lack of confidence can either be implied by rising intonation, or by hedges as “I think”, “I guess”, etc. Respondents can also account for delays with self-talk and explicit commentary.

Both fillers and self-talk are showing the questioner that despite the delay, one is still actively trying to retrieve an answer. Both are ways to let the questioner in on how the retrieval is progressing, and show that the respondent is not uncooperative, ignorant, poor in judgment etc. Listeners have been shown to use these cues to make adequate assessments of the certainty or uncertainty of the speaker (Brennan & Williams, 1995; Krahmer & Swerts, 2005; 2006). This constitutes the Interactive view on question answering (Smith & Clark, 1993).

The current research investigated whether similar communicative cues discriminated eyewitnesses’ accurate and inaccurate responses to questions about a crime event. Furthermore, we examined the extent to which groups differing in experience with judging eyewitness memory use these cues to estimate witness accuracy. Witnesses were videotaped while being interviewed about their memory of a simulated crime scenario. Responses to cued recall questions that provided correct or incorrect information about a specific detail were protocoled and scored with respect to linguistic and paralinguistic uncertainty cues (delays, fillers non-words/words, hedges, number of words). Results confirmed a higher frequency of “uncertainty” cues in witnesses’ incorrect as compared to correct responses. This finding points to the importance of taking the interactive component of the question-answering situation into account when analysing eyewitness memory. The eyewitness statements were presented to police detectives, chief judges, and lay-persons in written or in videotaped format. While all groups had difficulty determining accuracy, experienced police detectives, but not judges, had a better discrimination accuracy than lay-persons. Both professionals and lay-persons showed better discrimination when presented with statements in written than in videotaped format. This suggests that the visual format conveys information that interferes with the detection of valid accuracy cues.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. 71-71 p.
Keyword [en]
eyewitness testimony, accuracy cues, social communication
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-35542OAI: diva2:287469
21st Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, San Francisco, May 23, 2009
Available from: 2010-01-18 Created: 2010-01-18 Last updated: 2012-07-02

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Lindholm, Torun
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