A person can witness an event in real life, see a doctored video of the same event, and then convince themselves that what they saw on the video is what actually happened, according to a recent study that casts doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
Psychologists set up an experiment where they filmed two people sitting side by side–one experimental subject and one researcher pretending to be a participant–playing a gambling game where they bet phony money on whether or not they could answer multiple choice questions correctly. They were told that the person with the most money at the end would win a prize.
After the game, the researchers edited the video of the experiment so it appeared that the under-cover researcher was cheating by not giving money back after making a losing bet. The results showed that almost half of the people who watched a doctored video of an event believed the video rather than their actual experience, and some were even convinced to testify as an eyewitness to the fictitious happenings [LiveScience]. They were told to sign the eyewitness statement only if they were 100 percent sure that their partner cheated. Nearly 40 percent of those that watched the fake video decided their partner was cheating and signed the statement. The researchers published their results in a recent edition of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.
In an era of easily manipulated photo and video evidence, the researchers say their findings have major implications for law enforcement officials and policy-makers, adding yet more evidence that eyewitness testimony cannot always be accepted as fact [Wired.com]. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that prison inmates do not have a right to DNA testing, so for some criminal cases, law enforcement agencies may never know just how reliable eyewitnesses are.
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Image: flickr/ steakpinball