Volume 9

Eyewitness Testimony: The Effects of Weapon Focus and Misleading Information on the Accuracy of Eyewitness Accounts

Anne C. Ford

The testimony of eyewitnesses to crimes has an immense impact on the American legal system. In some instances, it can save communities from heinous murderers and rapists. In others, it can sentence an innocent person to a life in jail for a crime that another has committed. Throughout the years, researchers have demonstrated that human memory is not infallible. The present study attempted to identify interactions between misinformation and weapon focus as an effect on accuracy of eyewitnesses’ testimony. Participants were 120 voluntary college students from a small Northeastern state college. Each student viewed one of four video clips depicting a crime. The perpetrator had a weapon in two of the four video clips and did not use any weapon in the remaining two clips. Students were given questionnaires pertaining to events depicted in the video. Half the students in each group received a questionnaire containing misleading pictures while the other half did not receive any pictures. Results showed that students who received misleading information in the form of pictures produced more inaccurate responses that students who did not receive any misleading information. Results also supported a weapon focus effect, suggesting that witnesses focus more on a perpetrator’s weapon than on other characteristics of the criminal or event. No interaction effect between misinformation and presence of a weapon were found. Implications for further research are discussed.

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