Example Answer for Question 10 Paper 1: A Level Psychology, June 2017 (AQA)
Last updated 25 Apr 2018
Section B – Memory: Q10 [16 Marks]
Misleading information incorporates misleading questions and post-event discussion. Loftus & Palmer (1974) examined the effect of misleading questions by using three groups of students who watched a one-minute video of a car accident. One group was asked: ‘How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?’, while the other group was asked the same question but with the verb ‘hit’. One week later they were asked: ‘Did you see any broken glass?’, despite the fact there was none. 32% of participants in smashed condition said yes, compared to 14% (hit) and 12% (control). These results suggest that misleading questions can significantly affect the reliability of EWT and make people report seeing things that they didn’t witness.
One limitation of Loftus and Palmer’s research is that their study lacks population validity. Their experiment consisted of 150 American students. It is reasonable to argue that the students in their experiment were less experienced drivers, who may be less accurate at estimating speeds. Consequently, we are unable to generalise the results to other populations, for example, older and more experienced drivers, who may not be affected by misleading questions in the same way.
Furthermore, Loftus and Palmer’s research has questionable ecological validity. On the one hand, questioning participants about everyday events like a car crash appears to be a genuine measure of eyewitness testimony. However, the participants watched a video of a car crash and witnessed the events unfold from start to finish. In everyday reports of car accidents, witnesses rarely see the whole event; they are either involved in the event directly or see a small part of the event happen in their peripheral vision. Loftus & Palmer’s (1974) research, like a lot of research examining EWT, demonstrates experimental reductionism: the complex process of memory is reduced to the effect of the wording of a leading question (IV) on the eyewitness memory (DV). Therefore, their results do not reflect everyday car accidents, and we are unable to conclude if the effect of leading questions is the same outside the laboratory.
Gabbert et al. (2003) investigated the effect of post-event discussion. Her participants watched a video of a girl stealing money. However, participants in the co-witness group were told that they had watched the same video; however, they had in fact seen different perspectives. 71% of the witnesses in the co-witness group recalled information they had not seen and 60% said that the girl was guilty, despite the fact that they had not seen her commit a crime. These results highlight the issue of post-event discussion and the powerful effect this can have on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.
Although Gabbert’s results provide an insight into the effect of post-event discussion on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, we are unable to conclude why the distortion occurs. The distortion could be the result of poor memory, where people assimilate new information into their own accounts of the event and are unable to distinguish between what they have seen and what they have heard. On the other hand, it could be that the distortion occurs due to conformity and the social pressure from the co-witness. Therefore, in light of these issues and those highlighted in Loftus and Palmer’s research, further research is required in the real-world to demonstrate the exact effect on misleading information on the accuracy of EWT.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.