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How reliable are eyewitness memories? Effects of retention interval, violence of act, and gender stereotypes on observers' judgments of their own memory regarding witnessed act and perpetrator

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An experiment was conducted to evaluate the effects of (i) stimulus person's gender, (ii) type of act (neutral or violent), and (iii) retention interval (short or long) on observers' memory of a stimulus person. Participants were presented with one of two acts: neutral (walking around in a store) or violent (robbing a store). The retention interval was 10 minutes or one–three weeks. The dependent variables were questionnaire items concerning the participants' memory of (1) the stimulus person's appearance and (2) the event, and (3) rating scales where the participants were asked to evaluate the stimulus person's aggressiveness, insensitivity, and other personality traits as well as characteristics of the act. Results showed that when the act was violent, and a long retention interval was used, a female, but not a male, stimulus person was evaluated less harshly than with a short retention interval (enhancement of gender stereotype); a stimulus person was seen as behaving in a more masculine way when performing a violent rather than a neutral act; witnessing the violent act resulted in better self-rated memory of the stimulus person; and with increasing retention interval, the violent act was seen as less negative and the neutral act as more negative (regression toward the mean).

Keywords: eyewitness; gender; memory retrieval; perpetrator; time; type of act

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology,Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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