High emotional arousal associated with witnessing a crime promotes memory error…

1 of 7 Psychology, AppL Cognit. Psychol. 29: 314-319(2015)
January 2015 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) 1)01: 10.1002/acp.3111
Do Police Officers’ Beliefs About Emotional Witnesses Influence the Questions They Ask?
Summary: High emotional arousal associated with witnessing a crime promotes memory error. Police are trained to use opemended questioning (i.e.. Cognifive Interview, ro guard against contaminating fragile witness memory, but do they follow this protocol( We invesrigated whether officers’ belief oboul arousal, impart on crime scene memory influenced their questioning procedure& Officers and crime scenarios describing the withessivictim as either emotionally distraffihr or calm, and then day chose among /yen-endol and clase-ended quo,ion options for witness interviews. Results showed that emotion-WO amused witnesses were asked more closed queffionv by officers who believed arousal did nor him memory. while officers who believed amass,/ negarively impacted memory accuracy asked ran open-ended ffilestions. This relationship was not in-fluenced by police overdone. Resuffi suggest that regardless of training and empirical findings, beliefs abort, the aroffial-memory relationship may guide the questioning technique that officers employ. potentially contaminating already vulnerable witness memory. Copyright 0 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
People often believe that their memories of emotionally arousing events are more reliable and accurate than their memories of everyday or neutral events. The anecdotal feel-ing of ‘I could never forget that’ gives people a false sense of confidence in the accuracy of their memory. Often, this con-fidence in memory is attributed to the subjective vividness that occurs when one retrieves event details (Brown & Kulik, 1977, Flash Bulb Memories). However, witness memory is malleable and notoriously vulnerable to suggestion regard-less of whether the suggestion comes from other witnesses or occurs inadvertently during police questioning (i.e., the Misinformation Effect; Loftus, 2003, 2005, for a review; Loftus & Hoffman, 1989). Even traumatic events are not immune to suggestive influ-ence, although people feel confident in their memory for these event details specifically (Phelps & Shoat, 2008). For example, Talaiico and Rubin (2003) found that memory for details surrounding the events of 9/11 faded or were misremembered with the same regularity as memory for mundane events; however, people were more confident their memory for the traumatic versus mundane events regardless of whether they were accurate. It seems counterin-tuitive for negative, emotionally charged memories to be in-accurate when the confidence in the memory is often high. A large body of research has investigated the factors that surround veridical and false memory, as well as subjective confidence in the memory (e.g., Bernstein & Loftus, 2009; Brainerd & Rey., 2005; Laney & Loftus, 2008; Stark. Okado, & Loftus. 2010). Overall, there is broad support that memory for crimes is especially vulnerable to error, as the emotional nature of the event likely diffuses mention such the event details are not accurately encoded (Brown, 2003; Christianson, 1992; Deffenbacher, Bornstein, Penrod, & McGorty, 2004; Morgan et al., 2004). Moreover, crimes are often thematic and acti-vate familiar uhemata that then fuels confabulation of
•Correspontlence to: Heather M. Kleider-Offutt, Department of Psychology. Georgia State University. Atlanta. GA 3.0030, USA. hoffmt@gw.edu
Cop right 0 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
expected event details (Fuzzy Trace Theory; Brainerd, Reyna, Wright, & Mojardin, 2003; Brainerd, Stein, Silveira, Rohenkohl, & Reyna, 2008; Reyna & Brainerd, 1995). Al-though Audies of memory for traumatic events show that people are unlikely to forget that such an event occurred, memory for all event details (traumatic and neutral) fades overtime and is prone to error. In a review of eyewitness memory for arousing event, Deffenbacher and colleagues (2004) found that although Were were differences in accurate recall of event information across various studies, overall heightened arousal resulted in comparatively poorer memory for both the perpetrator and central event items. However, Christianson’s (1992) earlier review found that arousal in-creased memory for central items (i.e., perpetrator) but re-duced memory for peripheral items that are given compara-tively less attention 01 an event. How arousal impacts eyewitness memory is still debated, and current studies focus on unearthing factors that contribute to the differing results. For example, military personnel, accustomed to dealing with highly arousing situations, were tested in a misinformation paradigm wherein post-event suggestion was presented after soldiers had undergone stressful interrogations from 0 supe-rior officer. Experience with arousing situations was not pro-tective against the misinformation—soldiers incorporated the suggested information into their memory of the target event (Morgan, Southwick, Steffian, Hazlett, & Loftus, 2013). Misinformation intrusions into event recall are eve.n more likely for people who are not accustomed to highly arousing situations (e.g., crime eyewitnesses). For example, Van Hamm and Smets (2014) found that exposure to arousing-negative versus neutral events increased memory for central details; however, after exposure to post-event misinformation, all subjects made misinformation errors re-ganiless of arousal level. Moreover, misinformation is resil-ient to fade, as memory for suggested information about positive and negative emotionally charged pictures persisted after 1 week and 1month delays—the negative pies rres were associated with the highest misinformatMn error (Porter, Bellhouse, McDougall, & ten Brinke, 2010). Although there is some debate about the specific aspects
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