Eyewitnesses are important to the legal system; they report crimes, identify suspects in police lineups, and testify in court. The accuracy of eyewitness testimony has received a great deal of attention from psychologists, who have determined that witness memory can falter at any stage of the process: encoding, retention, and recall. Child witnesses, repressed memories, and mistaken identifications are especially problematical issues facing the legal system.

Encoding, Retention, and Recall

A high degree of stress or a person's expectations can taint memory encoding. If a witness has a stereotypical expectation that most criminals are African American, she might retain the memory as such, even though the criminal was Caucasian. Physiological factors, such as alcohol intoxication, also negatively affect the quality of memory encoding. The second step of ...

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