Flashcards in Factors Affecting EWT - Anxiety Deck (21):
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an unpleasant state of emotional and physical arousal. The emotions include having worried thoughts and feelings of tension. Physical changes changes include increased heart rate and sweatiness.
It is not clear from the research evidence whether anxiety makes eyewitnesses recall better or worse.
What are the two effects/theories that show anxiety has a NEGATIVE effect on recall?
The weapon focus effect and the tunnel theory of memory
What is the weapon focus effect?
The weapon focus effect is where witnesses to violent crimes focus on the weapon used, rather than the culprit's face, negatively affecting their ability to recall important details such as face recognition
How does it explain the relationship between eyewitness testimony and anxiety?
Anxiety creates physiological arousal in the body which prevents us from paying attention to important cues, so recall is worse.
What study investigated into weapon focus effect?
Johnson and Scott
Describe the study of research into the weapon focus effect
Johnson and Scott conducted a lab based experiment in which they led participants to believe they were taking part in a lab study. They asked the participants to sit and wait in a waiting room. In a low anxiety condition, they overheard a discussion from the lab followed by a man walking through the waiting room carrying a pen with grease on his hands. In the high anxiety condition, they overhears a heated discussion followed by a man carrying a paper knife covered in blood. Parents were later asked to identify the man from a set of photographs.
The result found that the mean accuracy was 49% in identifying the man in the low anxiety condition (pen), compared with 33% accuracy in the high anxiety condition (knife).
This research supports the weapon focus effect as the anxiety caused by seeing the knife narrowed the focus of attention to the weapon (the knife was a source of danger) and took attentions away from the face of the man.
What is the tunnel theory of memory?
In stressful situations, our attention narrows to focus on one aspect of a situation; it is as is we had tunnel vision.
How does it explain the relationship between eyewitness testimony and anxiety?
It explains weapon focus by stating that in a stressful situation our attention narrows onto the weapon as it is the source of our anxiety. This results in less accurate EWT for all aspects of a situation except the most pertinent.
What response shows that anxiety has a positive effect on recall?
The fight or flight response
What is the fight or flight response?
There is an alternative argument that high anxiety creates more enduring memories. The stress of witnessing a crime creates anxiety through physiological arousal in the body.
How does it explain relationship between eyewitness testimony and anxiety?
The fight-or-flight response is triggered which increases our alertness and improves our memory for the event because we become more aware of the cues in the situation.
What study investigated the effect of the fight or flight response anxiety on recall?
Yuille and Cutshall
Describe Yuille and Cutshall's study
They interviewed 13 witnesses to an actual violent crime, in which the shop owner shot a thief dead. They were interviewed four months after the event and accounts were compared to the the original police interviews. Accuracy was determined by the number of details reported in each account. Witnesses were also asked to rate how stressed they felt at the time using a 7 point scale.
The result found that witnesses were very accurate in their accounts and there was little difference in the accuracy after 4 months. Participants who reported highest levels of stress were most accurate (88% compared to 75% in the least stressed group).
This research finding suggests that anxiety does not reduce accuracy of recall and could actually enhance the accuracy of memory. This evidence contradicts the findings of Johnson and Scott's lab based experiment.
The evidence is clearly inconsistent on the role of anxiety and EWT. Inspection of the findings shows that the role of anxiety may have different implications when in real life compared to lab based research. In real like EWT anxiety can heighten accuracy (e.g. Yuille and Cutshall) whereas in lab based research (e.g. Johnson and Scott), anxiety posed by a weapon can decrease recall.
What can account for the apparent inconsistency?
The Yerkes Dodson Law, it explains why some research shows a negative relationship between shows a negative relationship between anxiety and eye witness testimony whilst others shows a positive relationship between them.
What conclusions can be drawn from the Yerkes - Dodson inverted- U graph?
The graph shows that when anxiety is too low or too high, memory is less accurate. Accuracy is at its best when anxiety levels are moderate.
The YDL represents a curvilinear relationship between anxiety and recall in which memory gradually improves from low up to the moderate anxiety levels (the optimum level), then gradually decreases when anxiety becomes too high.
Outline the 5 limitations of research into anxiety as a factor affecting recall.
• weapon focus may not be caused by anxiety
•real life vs lab studies - the issue of external validity
•lack of control in real life studies
•the inverted U explanation is too simplistic
Explain the limitation of weapon focus may not be caused by anxiety
A limitation of the study by Johnson and Scott on weapon focus is that it may test surprise rather than anxiety.
Pickel proposed that the reduced accuracy of identification may be because they are surprised at what they saw rather than because they are scared. To test this she arranged for participants to watch a thief enter a hairdressing salon carrying scissors (high threat, low surprise), handgun (high threat, high surprise), a wallet (low threat, low surprise) or a whole raw chicken (low threat, high surprise). Identification was least accurate in the high surprise conditions rather than the high threat.
This supports the view that weapon focus is related to surprise rather than anxiety and may mean that research into EWT may tell us little about the effect of anxiety on EWT.
Explain the strengths and limitations of the types of studies used to investigate anxiety's affect on recall to do with external validity
A strength of real life studies, such as Yuille and Cutshall's, is that it was a study of anxiety in the context of a 'real crime' and as such have a higher degree of external validity than artificial lab based studies. It may well be the case that lab studies do not create the real levels of anxiety experienced by a real eyewitness during an actual crime. This lack of external validity in lab studies could account for the contradictory nature of the research.
In Yuille and Cutshall's study, participants had witnessed a real life crime. These 'real' events are more realistic than any lab as they are sudden, unexpected and have high levels of stress.
As witnessing violent crime has been shown to have high anxiety content it could be argued that field studies provide the only real way to test the effect of anxiety on EWT accurately.
Explain why lack of control in real life studies is a limitation of field research into how anxiety affects the accuracy of EWT
A problem with field studies such as Yuille and Cutshall's is the lack of control in real life events.
Research usually involves real life eyewitnesses being interviewed sometime after the event. All sorts of things will have happened in the meantime that researchers have no control over such as discussion with other people about the event, accounts they may have read in the media and so on. Also, in Yuille and Cutshall's study, those with the highest levels of anxiety were actually those who were closer to the event and may simply have been able to see more. This means it is not clear whether it was levels of anxiety or proximity that affected recall.
Explain the role of ethical issues in research into the effect of anxiety on EWT
Creating anxiety in participants is very risky. It is potentially risky because it may subject people to psychological harm purely for the purpose of research.
This is why real-life studies, such as Yuille and Cutshall's are so beneficial as psychologists interview people who have already witnessed an event so there is no need to create a potentially stressful event.
In Johnson and Scott's study participants could've been highly distressed at the sight of the man with the knife. This does not challenge the findings of their study but it does question the need for such research.
One reason we may need to conduct such controlled studies as Johnson and Scott's is to compare findings with less controlled field studies such as Yuille and Cutshall's as the benefits of the added control may outweigh the ethical issues.