When Your Eyes Deceive You: The Misinformation Effect Article Review Sample

Published: 2021-06-25 05:25:06
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Category: Information, Experience, Events, Brain, Message, Memory, Memories, Inflation

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While an individual can be certain that their recollection of events is accurate, eyewitnesses can often get large details incorrect, such as gender, clothing colors, and race. According to research by Frenda, Nichols, and Loftus (2011), there are several aspects of human nature that contribute to what is referred to as the Misinformation Effect. Memories often deteriorate over time, even when the events feel like they just happened yesterday to the individual recounting the experience. However, due to a variety of variables, such as the amount of stress associated with the experience, information provided by fellow eyewitnesses, investigators, and even the brain’s reaction to a traumatic event, the accuracy of the recall can diminish and vary greatly among the eyewitnesses who observed the same events.
The Misinformation Effect
Despite the best intentions, eyewitness errors are among the most common reasons innocent people are falsely convicted of crimes, destined to spend time confined due to the weight that the penal system places on the reliability of eyewitness testimony (Huff, Rattner, & Sagarin, 1996). While DNA testing has been able to clear up some of the issues surrounding the wrongly convicted, errors based on the mistaken memories of the eyewitnesses still occur (Wright, Self, & Justice, 2000). Even individuals who are considered to be professional eyewitnesses, such as those employed in the public safety realm (police officers, firefighters, investigators, etc.) are not immune to the effects caused by misinformation, and the consequences are not just dedicated to humans, as misinformation effects have been witnessed in the animal kingdom as well (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011). Further research into false memories and misinformation has suggested that when individuals are presented with misinformation, such as by viewing a picture, reading a narration with misinformation, followed by a memory test, the false memories planted by misinformation persisted as long as true memories 18 months after being exposed to the misinformation (Zhu et al., 2012). However, research into the phenomenon has revealed that there are certain personality characteristics, such as a diminished level of harm avoidance or individuals who have a decreased level of cognitive ability, which are more prone to experiencing the effects of misinformation (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011).
With the expanding body of research into how misinformation occurs, researchers have revealed that there are processes happening within the neurological system that contribute to the development of misinformation or distorted memories. With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have been able to see the activation of certain brain systems, such as the auditory cortex when participants are processing information which contains false information through an auditory narrative (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011). Additionally, research by Slotnick and Schacter (2004) suggest that the brain actually processes true and false memories in unique ways when the information is presented and encoded by either verbal or auditory methods.
Knowing how misinformation occurs has assisted researchers in finding ways to prevent the event from occurring in the first place. One such technique to stave off misinformation is through conducting a “cognitive interview” when taking eyewitness statements. The interview approach begins with establishing and building rapport, recreating the event and asking the witness to report in detail what they saw or experienced, allowing the witness to speak uninterrupted, asking open-ended questions when more clarification is needed, and encouraging the witness to recall the events in both different perspectives and different chronological orders (Wells, Memon, & Penrod, 2006).
Application to Course Material
Understanding how misinformation can occur has applications that extend further than the confines of an eyewitness testimony. Two real-world concepts that involve the misinformation effects concerns source information and imagination inflation. According to Drivdahl, Zaragoza, and Learned (2008), when individuals are provided with incorrect information from a third source (i.e., not witnessing the event themselves, but rather are told the information). The confusion of facts can be either deliberately or by mistake, yet the result is still the same, namely that the individual being told the information accepts the experience relayed to them as fact, since they do not have proof otherwise. One such example of the source information contributing to the misinformation effect can be seen in the game, “telephone,” in which one individual relays a sentence to another person, who then repeats it to a third person, and so on. Over time, the original message often differs from the message received by the last person in the chain of individuals. The change in the message passed may not have been done deliberately, yet the effect is still the same, resulting in an altered message or memory.
While source information concerns the receiving of information from an outside source, imagination inflation occurs when an individual witnesses an event, yet adds details to the existing memory which are not accurate. Another way imagination inflation can hinder accurate remembering of an event occurs when an individual repeatedly imagines themselves or another performing an action, which with enough mental repetition, can be remembered as the event actually occurring rather than an imagined event (Mammarella et al., 2010).
Further research is continuing to allow insight into how the misinformation effect occurs, which allows researchers to learn more about how the mind works. Additionally, as technology improves, perhaps less reliance will be placed on the eyewitness statements, giving way to more accurate recordings of events, which are more difficult to corrupt.
Drivdahl, S. B., Zaragoza, M. S., & Learned, D. M. (2009). The role of emotional elaboration in the creation of false memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23(1), 13-35. doi:10.1002/acp.1446
Frenda, S. J., Nichols, R. M., & Loftus, E. F. (2011). Current issues and advances in misinformation research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(1), 20-23. doi:10.1177/0963721410396620
Huff, C. R., Rattner, A., & Sagarin, E. (1996). Convicted but innocent: Wrongful conviction and public policy. London: Sage.
Mammerella, N., Altamura, M., Padalino, F. A., Petito, A., Fairfield, B., & Bellomo, A. (2010). False memories in schizophrenia? An imagination inflation study. Psychiatry Research, 179(3), 267-273. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2009.05.005
Slotnick, S. D., & Schacter, D. L. (2004). A sensory signature that distinguishes true from false memories. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 664-672.
Wells, G. L., Memon, A., & Penrod, S. D. (2006). Eyewitness evidence: Improving its probative value. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(2), 45-75.
Wright, D. B., Self, G., & Justice, C. (2000). Memory conformity: Exploring misinformation effects when presented by another person. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 189-202.
Zhu, B., Chen, C., Loftus, E. F., He, Q., Chen, C., Lei, X., . . . Dong, Q. (2012). Brief exposure to misinformation can lead to long-term false memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(2), 301-307. doi:10.1002/acp.1825

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