Effect of anxiety in eye witness testimony
Eyewitness Testimony refers to witnesses who are asked to give testimonies in court to particular crimes. Anxiety is amongst several other factors that can affect the accuracy of EWT. Depending on the anxiety level a witness has experienced, their recall level can either be more or less accurate. Loftus 1979, investigated the effect of anxiety on eye witness testimony accuracy. She asked participants to sit outside a laboratory where they thought they were hearing a genuine exchange between people inside the laboratory. In the control condition, participants heard a friendly discussion and then a man appeared from the room with greasy hands holding a pen. In the experimental condition, participants were subject to a hostile discussion, followed by the sound of breaking glass and overturned furniture, a man then emerged from the room holding a knife covered in blood. Loftus then supplied participants with 50 photos and asked them to identify the man who had left the room. From this experiment Loftus found out that participants who had witnessed the more violent scene were less accurate in identifying the man compared to those who witnessed the peaceful discussion.
This suggests that heightened anxiety of the witness in the violent scene caused them to focus on the weapon more than any other details. This is also known as the weapon effect. Loftus and Burns (1982) supports the findings of Loftus (1979). Participants were allocated to one of two conditions. One set of participants watched a violent short film where a boy was shot in the head whereas the other set of participants watched a non-violent short film of a crime. Similarly In this experiment they found that Participants were less accurate in recall when they saw the violent short film than those who watched the non-violent movie. However the Experiment conducted by Christianson and Hubinette (1993) contracts the findings of Loftus.
Christianson and Hubinette surveyed 110 people who had between them witnessed 22 different bank robberies either as direct victims or bystanders. They found out that the victims who had been subjected to the greatest levels of anxiety were more detailed and accurate in their recall than the bystanders also the victims stored the details in their LTM, and were able to recall even after 15 months. This demonstrates that anxiety did not make recall inaccurate and in some cases may have made recall more accurate. From these studies I believe that the level of anxiety does effect the accuracy of the eye witness testimony. But those who face anxiety in real life and therefore have a heightened level of anxiety will provide more accurate detail than of those who witness an event in a laboratory setting.