19 Jurimetrics J. 1 (1978-1979)
Eyewitness Testimony: The Dangers of Guessing

handle is hein.journals/juraba19 and id is 23 raw text is: £ ARICE

EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY:
THE DANGERS OF GUESSING
Reid Hastie,* Robert Landsmant
and Elizabeth F. Loftus
ABSTRACT
In Experiment 1, college students watched a series of slides depicting a
street crime. Some of the subjects were then asked a series of questions and
they were urged to guess at the answers if they were uncertain. Relative to
control subjects, those who guessed were more likely to commit false alarm
errors on a final test given later on. Experiment 2 showed that the confidence
level of a person who guesses about a detail can rise over time rather than
decline. It is argued that guessing can cause a change in a person's memorial
representation-guesses can fill in a vague and schematic representation
making it more vivid. These results have implications for the conduct of
police and courtroom interrogation procedures.
Psychologists have addressed the problem of evaluating the validity of
eyewitness testimony since the earliest days of experimental research on
human memory. Generally, researchers have concluded that eyewitness
reports provide a delicate, unreliable route to historical truth. Numerous
sources of error and failure have been revealed by research mimicking
the conditions obtained in natural eyewitness situations.'
The conditions under which the eyewitness is interrogated provide
one of the major sources of threats to testimony validity. These condi-
tions are under the control of legal and police authorities. A far from
rare practice involves, in essence, asking a witness who is not quite
*This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Science
Foundation to Reid Hastie and in part by a grant from the National Institutes of
Mental Health to Elizabeth Loftus. Please address all correspondence to E. Loftus,
Psychology Department, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195.
tHarvard University.
*University of Washington.
'Woocher, F. Did your eyes deceive you? Expert psychological testimony on
the unreliability of eyewitness identification, 29 STAN. L. REv. 1977, 969-1030.

FALL 1978

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