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The devil is not only in the details: gist and detail elaboration in intoxicated witnesses’ reports of interpersonal violence

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The empirical base relating to alcohol’s effects on underlying memory mechanisms among witnesses is sparse. Therefore, the effect of alcohol intoxication on memory mechanisms was investigated, as well as how degree of intoxication and interview delay affected gist and detail elaboration in these witnesses’ reports. Participants (n = 136) were randomized to an alcohol group (men: 0.8 g/kg, women: 0.75 g/kg) (n = 70) or a control group (n = 66), given juice. After consumption, they witnessed an intimate partner violence-scenario, and performed tasks assessing memory mechanisms. Half of the intoxicated and sober groups were interviewed immediately. The remaining participants were interviewed one week later. Inter alia, intoxication decreased total gist recall and elaboration capacity. In general, high intoxication (BAC = 0.08–0.15) made witnesses report fewer gist categories, and also to elaborate them less, but there were differences in gist/detail elaboration between levels of intoxication due to emotional context. Less reported information among intoxicated witnesses was caused both by omitting parts of the scenario and to less detailed elaboration. Emotional context influenced reporting among intoxicated witnesses on a gist and detail level. However, intoxication had less impact on gist/detail-elaboration than did a one week delay before interview, suggesting that witnesses should be interviewed immediately, despite intoxication.
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Keywords: Alcohol intoxication; delayed interview; eye witnesses; gist; level of detail

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental health, The section of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden 2: Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden 3: Investigations Division, Police Region West, The Swedish Police Authority, Gothenburg, Sweden

Publication date: April 21, 2019

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