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Memory judgements: the contribution of detail and emotion to assessments of believability and reliability

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In legal settings, jury members, police, and legal professionals often have to make judgements about witnesses’ or victims’ memories of events. Without a scientific understanding of memory, (often erroneous) beliefs are used to make decisions. Evaluation of the literature identified two prevalent beliefs that could influence judgements: (1) memory operates like a video recorder therefore, accounts that are detailed are more believable than those containing vague descriptions, and (2) memories recalled with congruent emotion are more believable than those recalled with incongruent emotion. A 2 (emotionality: emotional, non-emotional) × 2 (detail: high, low) factorial design was generated. In line with previous research, participants made believability judgements (Experiment 1) but uniquely, participants were also asked to judge the reliability of the rememberer’s recall (Experiment 2). Self-reported confidence, personality measures, and political orientation were also recorded. Believability judgements did not vary as a function of detail or emotion but detailed accounts were judged as more reliable than vague accounts. Confidence and believability were positively correlated, whereas the confidence-reliability relationship was more complex. Personality and political measures were independent of judgements of both constructs. Our results suggest that believability and reliability are distinct constructs and should be examined as such in future research.
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Keywords: Credibility judgements; autobiographical memory; believability; emotional memory; reliability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Publication date: November 26, 2018

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