What the Science Says About Eyewitness Memory After a Car Accident

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Eyewitness testimony provides powerful, convincing evidence that some action happened.

Or at least it should, in theory. After all, if you see something with your own eyes, you can be pretty sure that your perceptions match reality. But perhaps surprisingly, eyewitness memories—even ones recorded shortly after an event—are often flawed. People who provide misinformation after the fact can manipulate our memories without us even realizing it. Skillful use of wording or photos when questioning an eyewitness about a car accident can corrupt our memories and replace them with something else that is to the questioner’s advantage. Our eyes—and our minds—often betray us without our permission or even conscious knowledge!

In one study, researchers used this “misinformation effect” to cleverly make eyewitnesses to a car accident later think they had seen a yield sign, when they had actually seen a stop sign. In another study, researchers tricked eyewitnesses into thinking they had seen a barn that was not there. Although these are examples of intentional manipulation, some memory corruption is unintentional.

When eyewitnesses to a car accident talk with each other while waiting for the police to arrive at the scene, they can contaminate each other’s memories of what they saw. Eyewitnesses tend to hold on to the memories that are corroborated by other eyewitnesses and discard memories that conflict with or do not match what others saw.

The Innocence Project uses DNA evidence to exonerate people wrongly convicted of crimes. In three out of four of these cases, eyewitness testimony was the basis for the conviction. People have been incarcerated and even sent to death row for crimes they did not commit–all because of incorrect eyewitness testimony.

Memories can change with each retelling. We all have a relative whose stories become bigger each time they tell them. And as our memories fade with time, our minds will “fill in the blanks,” because the brain abhors a vacuum. It replaces fading memories with filled-in content, further corrupting our recollections.

In car accidents, flawed eyewitness testimony can result in blaming the wrong person for the crash. The insurance company can use faulty eyewitness testimony to discredit or devalue your injury claim.

If you need legal insight after a car accident, the Kelly Law Team can help. We will work hard to assemble powerful, believable evidence and construct a logically sound case to get you all the compensation you deserve. Call 602-283-4122 or visit our website to set up your free consultation.

What the Science Says About Eyewitness Memory After a Car Accident
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