The Limits of Memory for Witnesses of Crime

Pacific Standard:

Armed robbery. Bank hold-ups. Sleight-of-hand shoplifting. While not all of these crimes are violent, what they all have in common is the sudden, stressful position they can often put eyewitnesses and victims in—namely, the need to quickly assess a situation and react in just the right way. Does this robber really have a gun in her pocket? When the suspected shoplifter vehemently denies it, when is it time to search his bag?

Our brains seek out, collect, and analyze countless cues in any given interaction, which all add up and tell us—consciously or no—who is lying, who is dangerous, and what action we should take. This almost-instantaneous set of calculations can save our lives in a crisis. But the side-effect of it is, it also takes up a lot of brainpower in that moment—brainpower that would otherwise be used to, for instance, create memories. That’s what new research into the psychology of memory has found, as published in the journal Memory.

Kerri Pickel, a professor of psychology at Ball State University in Indiana, led the study, which involved videos with actors portraying, for instance, accused shoplifters who are denying wrongdoing. Some respondents in the study were told to simply watch the videos; others were tasked with trying to determine whether the people in the videos were lying or telling the truth.

Read the whole story: Pacific Standard

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