skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 78206 Add to Shopping cart Find in a Library
Title: Eyewitness Testimony
Author(s): E F Loftus
Date Published: 1979
Page Count: 264
Sponsoring Agency: Andrew W Mellon Foundation
New York, NY 10021
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, MA 02138
National Ctr for Statistics and Analysis
Washington, DC 20590
National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA 22230
US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare
Rockville, MD 20857
Sale Source: Harvard University Press
79 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States of America
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Empirical work on eyewitness testimony is synthesized, and the role that this testimony has played in the American legal system is examined.
Abstract: A substantial body of research bears directly on the perception, memory, and recall of complex events of the kind involved in eyewitness testimony. This research indicates that eyewitness testimony can be viewed as a three-stage process. During the first stage--acquisition--an event is perceived and information about it is initially stored in memory. In the second stage--retention--information is resident in memory. In the final stage--retrieval--memory is searched and pertinent information is retrieved and communicated. A common belief is that information, once acquired by the memory system, is unchangeable, and that errors in memory result either from an inability to find stored information or from errors made during the original perception of the event. The evidence examined supports the alternative position that stored information is highly malleable and subject to change and distortion by such events as misleading questions and overheard conversation occurring during the retention stage. Evidence presented indicates that once memory for some event has been distorted by intervening events, the information acquired during perception of the original event may never be recovered. The impact of eyewitness testimony on the legal system is examined, and the enormous credibility that eyewitness testimony is likely to have in jury trials is indicated. Common mistaken beliefs about eyewitness testimony are presented, and the degree to which such beliefs produce erroneous decisions is determined. The legal status of eyewitness testimony and the role of expert testimony on the matter is delineated. The final chapter provides a detailed account of a murder case in which eyewitness testimony played a key role. The transcript of the expert testimony provided in the case is appended, and about 200 references are listed. An index is also provided. (Author abstract modified)
Index Term(s): Jury decisionmaking; Psychological research; Testimony; Witnesses
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.