DE300: Investigating Psychology 3: Memory in the real world

Book 1, Chapter 3 Memory in the real world runs to around 50 pages and is one of the three optional chapters on the first TMA.

Introduction highlights some of the difficulties of experimenting in real-world experiments e.g. lack of controls, lack of objective facts to compare the memories against and the ethical issues. What can experiments tell us about remembering falsely? The approach in experimentation follows an encoding phase, provision of post-event information (which may be false) and retrieval. Loftus has explored the provision of misleading information through leading questions, discussions with co-witnesses and been able to influence the remembering of childhood incidents that didn’t happen and even short term food preferences. Chandler (2001) found that these false memory effects were temporary i.e. that the original memory was retained. The effectiveness of the false memory was found to depend on how plausible it was (Walther and Blank, 2004). Taking false memory into the laboratory starts by discussing the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (DRM) concept of inducing false memories implicitly e.g. inducing participants to remember that they heard “bed” when the initial list was duvet, pillow, sheet, etc. Zhu (2013) found that the underpinning mechanism in DRM false memories and explicit ones appeared to be different.

Laboratory experimentation points out that although psychology laboratories may be essentially normal offices, the environment remains an artificial one. A laboratory experiment on the other-race effect reports on Anzures (2014) study of children’s recognition of faces from other races which found that there was no statistical difference in recognition from 5 to 10 year olds although they did recognise Chinese faces less accurately. Extrapolating to the real world points out a number of limitations to Anzures experiment: it was artificial setting, it used artificial stimuli (e.g. it was a 2D photo), the task was artificial (2AFC, in rapid succession), it used an artificially short time-span, it utilised explicit memory and the consequentiality and motivation was clearly quite different than in a line-up situation. Thus, on the whole, ecological validity was somewhat lacking: as Gibson (1979) illustrated, a picture of a pipe is not itself a pipe.

Face recognition introduces the concept that face recognition may involve a special type of memory. Are faces special? Our exposure to examplars of the category face is clearly much greater than for other categories and moreover, whilst we don’t need to distinguish between individual pineapples, we do need to distinguish between individual faces. But are we treating faces in a fundamentally different way? Face specificity or expertise? Introduces Prosopagnosia (the inability to recognise faces) and points out that people can have that whilst being able to recognise everyday objects or vice versa (Farah, 1991, McMullen, 2001). Although this seems to imply that faces are recognised differently, it could equally be that the damage was to areas involved in more general processing, e.g. memory of fine detail. Yin (1969) noted that when objects are presented upside down, everything except faces is recognised, which he suggests is evidence that face recognition is a different type of process. However, Bruyer and Crispeels (1992) showed that it was more an aspect of familiarity with the exemplars than specifically of faces that differentiated the upside down slowing down of recognition. This expert effect has been demonstrated in training (Rossion, 2002) but not with experts on birds (Gauthier, 2000) and other categories. Familiarity in face recognition discusses the different quality of recognition that comes with familiarity: we can recognised friends immediately even after many years but have difficulty in picking out someone who we have not seen a great deal: a familiarity effect that applies equally to groups. Biases in face recognition considers the Other Race Effect (ORE), the relative difficulty in recognising faces from different races. Brigham and Malpass (1985) showed that this was an aspect of familiarity. There is also some evidence of an Own-Age Bias (OAB), although this seems less consistent. Bartlett and Leslie (1986) showed that younger participants recognised faces around their own age better than they recognised older ones but that the older ones didn’t have that bias, although there are issues around their age banding. Other studies with tighter banding have shown the effect at all age bands (Perfect and Moon, 2005 and others). The level of contact is considered the deciding factor with the cognitive approach of Hancock and Rhodes (2008) coming down on the level of experience and essentially training being the decider. However, it could be argued that it is a social categorisation effect that determines how we process the face e.g. the categorisation-individuation model (CIM) (Hugenberg et al., 2013) which suggests that the categorisation happens first with only the in-group being considered at an individual level. Practical implications of biases in face recognition illustrates that this ranges from embarassment to potentially major issues in line-up identification. This is something of a problem as eyewitnesses are believed about 70% of time whether or not they seem reliable (Loftus, 1983). Whilst the laboratory studies have a lot of power (lots of participants, each with lots of data points), they are severely lacking in ecological validity both in normal life and in line-up situations.

Eyewitness evidence just points out how crucial effective eyewitness evidence can be. Identity parades (line-ups) starts off by describing the simultaneous and sequential line-up procedures with Stelbay’s (2001) finding that the sequential line-ups were more accurate. However, McQuiston-Surrett (2006) found that sequential line-ups were only more effective when the perpetrator wasn’t present i.e. they reduced the chance of identifying a suspect who was innocent. In simultaneous line-ups, the person who looks most like the perpetrator may be chosen even when they are instructed that the perpetrator may not be present due to pressure from the situational context (Mermon, 2003). By contrast, in sequential line-ups, they are forced to make absolute decisions rather than relative ones. The mystery man procedure introduces the idea of having a mystery-man in the line-up specifically for children so that they can select the mystery-man as a positive “don’t know” selection which overcomes the pressure that children feel to make any selection in the situation (Havard and Memon, 2013). Applied memory experiments highlights the differences between Anzures (2014) experiment which used large numbers of images but required a forced choice seconds later vs Havard and Memon (2013) which used a video viewed once and tested recognition a few days later i.e. having much higher ecological validity. What affects eyewitness evidence? Considers the effects of estimator variables (those outside the control of the criminal justice system such as those to do with the witness and the characteristics of the crime e.g. lighting levels, distance of the witness from the action) and system variables (those under the control of the criminal justice system such as the nature of the line-ups and questioning). Wagenaar and van der Schrier (1996) suggested a Rule of 15 which states that for accuracy the limits are 15m and 15 lux. Even in ideal circumstances, Flin and Shepherd (1986) found that there was a tendency to underestimate above average characteristics and over estimate below average ones i.e. there was a tendency to average out. Cutler (1987) found that the presence of a weapon reduced the accuracy of identification still further. To improve accuracy, sequential line-ups can be used and specific instructions rather than just asking who it is (Cutler et al., 1987).

Reference: Harrison, G., Ness, H. and Pike, G. (2016). Memory in the real world. In Ness, H., Kaye, H. and Stenner, P. (2016). Investigating Psychology 3. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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