Explore The Practical Value Of Psychological Knowledge Criminology Essay

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There are many areas in which psychology is relevant to policing and some of these are considered within this paper. One area is the interviewing techniques used by police when interviewing eyewitnesses which continues to be of major concern. There are considerable literature on the characteristics of eyewitnesses memory. System variables are under the control of the criminal justice system, for example, how line-ups are conducted, the way questions are asked and levels of support given to witnesses at police interviews (Davies 2003). Of importance is the events following the incident for example interviews may affect what is remembered as well as the type of questioning used by the police. The police have control over system variables yet psychologists have indicated many faults in police's expectations of witnesses and their use of techniques. There follows a discussion of some of the interview techniques that are employed by the police that enhance witness recall that have been developed by psychologists in order to improve recall. Thus, psychologists may have substantial influence on the number of occasions on which the guilty are convicted (Ainsworth 1998). Psychologists have also had immense influence on identification procedures used by the police and we will look at some of these in this paper.

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The sole purpose of police interviewing is to obtain accurate and complete information (Putwain 2002). The vast majority of crimes which are committed are unseen by the police nor are they captured on videotape. Thus, the police are heavily reliant on the information given to them by the witnesses in order to establish just what happened (Ainsworth 1998: 2000).

A fundamental part of this information-gathering processes is formed by perception and memory. Therefore, in order to evaluate the reliability of interviewees' testimony, it is important to firstly discuss the basic psychological processes of memory (Gudjonsson 1992).

Human memory is an active and distortion prone process and several factors are existent which interfere in the processes of acquisition, retention and retrieval and can impact the accuracy and completeness of the testimony (Davies 2008; Gudjonsson 1992). Acquisition/encoding stage is when the information initially enters our memories. The storage/retention stage is when we store the information in our memories to recall later and finally the retrieval stage is when we release the information from our memories, either by recall or recognition (Davies 2008). Several factors can influence these three stages such as the witnesses abilities, previous experiences, beliefs, personality, physical and mental state, in addition to a mass of environmental stressors, identification and interrogative factors (Davies 2008; Gudjonsson 1992; Wells 2003).

Firstly, the acquisition stage can be impaired by three factors: event and witness factors; stimulus and subject factors and lastly, situational and individual factors (Gudjonsson 1992).

Event factors are associated with the nature and circumstance of the incident itself, whereas witness factors are associated with the characteristics and abilities of the witness (Ainsworth 1998: Gudjonsson 1992).

The exposure duration to a particular incident or event or culprits face may impair the accuracy of their following recall. Generally, longer exposure time results in more accurate subsequent memory. Likewise, the more often a particular detail or incident is viewed the more likely recall will occur (Ainsworth 1998; Gudjonsson 1992; Wells et al 2003).

Another importance that has been illustrated is the time of the day and the lighting conditions of when an incident is witnessed. According to Kuehn (1974), when an incident was observed at twilight, performance was worse than observations during the day or at night. Likewise, Yarmey (1986) discovered that in daylight or at the beginning of twilight provided better accuracy of recall as apposed to the end of twilight or night (Gudjonsson 1992). Similarly, a face cannot be observed well enough in order for later recognition to occur at extreme levels of low light (Wells 2003).

In the registration and encoding of information, the salience of a particular detail has also been illustrated to be of importance as reported by Marshall and collegues (1971). They discovered that information perceived by participants to be salient resulted in more accurate and complete recall (Gudjonsson 1992; Wells 2003).

Several studies has indicated that crime seriousness could affect the accuracy of witnesses accounts. Leippe, Wells, Ostram (1978) staged a crime and found that when subjects were led to believe a stolen item was of high value, consequently affected the subsequent identification of the thief by the 'witnesses'. When subjects believe that they are observing a serious crime, then tend to pay more attention to the details of the crime (Gudjonsson 1992: Wells 1978).

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Research has shown that in highly stressful situations, people's concentration becomes selective and focus becomes intensively on less features of the environment. Clifford and Hollin (1981) state that greater arousal, caused by observing a violent event, causes the focus of attention to narrow and therefore concentration becomes on one feature resulting in a decline in performance. Loftus and Messo (1987) found that the 'weapon focus', during an armed robbery interfered with witnesses' ability to both recall information and to recognise those present at the scene (Ainsworth 1998; 2000; Gujonsson 1992: Loftus 1996).

By focusing on factors such as weapon focus, and the consequences of stress on memory, psychologists can be beneficial to all those charged with decision making within the criminal justice system. As discussed, individual and event factors often interrelate in complicated ways resulting in complication when making absolute predictions. Nonetheless, psychologists can still provide advise to the police on numerous factors which will reduce or increase the likely accuracy of eyewitness reports (Ainsworth .

Memory generally becomes less complete and accurate in the intervening period between acquisition and retrieval. The retention of memory generally deteriorates over time, due to natural forgetting and interference with memory by post event information which can be verbal and non-verbal. Memory can be distorted easily by misleading information when it has been encountered by the witness after a long retention interval. Leading questions which are based on unsupported premises and expectations can seriously distort the normal memory process (Gudjonsson 1992). The form in which a question is put to a witness exerts a strong influence on the quality of answer therefore limit and distort testimony (Loftus 1996).

One study is by Loftus and Palmer (1974) who manipulated the wording in a question. Participants viewed a series of filmed collisions between vehicles. Thereafter were asked several questions about the speed of the vehicles. They were asked about 'how fast the cars were going when they hit each other'. Different groups were exposed to different questions with different words. The word 'hit' was replaced by alternative words such as 'collided', 'smashed', 'contacted' and 'bumped'. Neither of these will be perceived as leading questions, however each of them differ in what the imply about the speed and force of impact. Those who received the contacted condition estimated the speed at 30.8 mph whereas an estimate of 40.5 mph produced by those participants who received the 'smashed' version. Thus, subtle alternations in the wording of questions influences the answer given by witnesses (Adler 2004; Ainsworth 1998; 2000; Davies 2008).

Questions which intentionally lead a witness is prohibited in most courts of law. However, such controls are non-existent in police interviewing thus the subject of question wording is an important one to consider.

The final stage of the memory process is that of the retrieval of information stored. The inability of the witness to retrieve information is widely explained by failure in memory as aposed to faulty acquisition or retention. Psychologists distinguish between two types of retrieval: recall and recognition. A recall procedure involves presenting witnesses with the stimulus material and thereafter requesting to report everything they can recollect. Free recall involves no restrictions placed on the witness in relation to recall. Cued recall involves providing witnesses with specific cues to aid recall such as question and answer (Davies 2003: Gudjonsson 1992)

Whether witnesses are able to retrieve information by recall or recognition is dependant on several factors. Immense research has investigated the factors that hinder the reliability of information obtained. In order to recognise some of the problems that are apparent in interviewees in relation to inhibiting retrieval, Fisher, Geiselman and Raymond (1987) analysing taped police interviews. They found that the frequent use of three techniques hindered memory retrieval. These included: regular interruptions of witnesses' descriptions; asking them too many short-answer questions and inappropriate sequencing of questions (Gudjonsson 1992:173).

Police interviewers appeared to cause regular interruptions which affected the witnesses' concentration on the retrieval processes. When witnesses were attempting to concentrate on mental images, significant effort is required thus, regular interruptions can be particularly disadvantageous. Regular interruptions is also problematic as they are foreseeable, therefore, the possibility of superficial retrieval efforts adopted by the witnesses increases (Gudjonsson 1992).

Secondly, more closed questions which produce short (e.g. yes/no) answers were asked than open questions, which produces less concentrated retrieval. Fisher and colleagues identified that the use of too many short answer questions is problematic (Howitt 2003). Furthermore, short-answer questions elicit information which is tied to the specific request. One result of this is that less accurate answers to specific questions are provided by the witnesses as they fill memory gaps with distorted or inaccurate material. In other words, witnesses may become suggestible to the demands of the interviewer (Adler 2004). Resulting in restricted information being obtained and the prevention of potentially important information from being exposed (Gudjonsson 1992).

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Moreover, another major problem found was the use of inappropriate sequences of questions which frequently involved follow-up questions which were incompatible with the witnesses' metal image of the crime, resulting in less than optimal tapping of the witnesses' memory of the event (Gudjonsoon 1992).

Furthermore, asking too many questions can be counterproductive thus a question-based method to elicit information poses serious problems. Human beings have a limited metal resource to process information. An interviewers who asks too many questions and who leaps between topics will force the witness to shift between different aspects of the event being remembered, which is not conductive to good recall (Davies 2008). If the interviewee is encountered with a barrage of questions they maybe so bombarded cognitively in which they can only search their memories superficially (Howitt 2008). If psychological knowledge of the effects of limited mental resources was not available, a police officer may not be aware that he/she is in fault by the rapid fire questions and might wrongfully interpret the interviewee's pauses and hesitations as a reluctance to tell the truth. Thus, an interviewer who asks too many questions may distort a suspect's memories of his/her criminal conduct (Davies 2008).

Poorly worded questions, complex sentences, ambiguous questions and difficult vocabulary are also potentially problematic for witnesses. Problems over the wording of questions can give rise to error during police witness interviews. These forms of questions can make it difficult for the witness to work out what the questioner is asking and so influence the answer provided (Davies 2008).

Police officers have slowly accepted that the above strategies used within interviews with witnesses can distort information retrieved in terms of both quantity and quality. As previously discussed, memory is very complex and subject to a large number of external and internal factors therefore, remembering is not a simple process. In this respect, psychologists have developed interviewing techniques which are appropriate, productive and ethical and are designed to enhance retrieval from memory (Ainsworth 1998). The research which has been conducted on system variables allows psychologists to offer guidance to the police in adjusting procedures and practices to enhance the quality of evidence that witness can provide (Davies 2008).

The cognitive interview technique (CIT), developed by Geiselman et al (1984) potentially enhances recall by witnesses involving techniques established from psychological research on memory retrieval. The CIT utilises four strategies for aiding retrieval. Firstly, witnesses should be encouraged to 'reinstate the content' of the witnessing. This involves their thoughts and feelings experienced at the time and external factors they can recall (e.g. features of physical environment). Secondly, the witnesses are directed to report everything they can think of, regardless of how trivial it may seem to them. When necessary, witnesses are encouraged to make several attempts at retrieval. This is constructed from the general principal that the more is remembered of a particular event the more recall will occur (Ainsworth 1998: Gudjonsson 1992: Howitt 2003) .

Geiselman et al. suggest two strategies in order to increase the amount of retrieval paths utilized. Firstly, by using vary retrieval methods. This involves directing witnesses to recount the events in more than one order and not just in chronicle order. For example, asking witnesses to discuss the incident in reverse order. According to research evidence, when different cues are present to aid retrieval, different components of a complex event may be recalled. Secondly, witnesses are asked to recall the incident from an alternative perspective (i.e the offender or someone else at the scene). The underlying idea is that witnesses may only discuss details which directly impacted them. When re-telling the story from an alternative perspective, additional details of other aspects of the incident may be obtained from the witness (Gudjonsson 1992: Howitt 2003).

Gieselman et al have recommended additional considerations to enhance retrieval as interest in CIT increased. This involves encouraging witnesses to concentrate adequately on retrieval attempts. Lack of concentration hinders the ability of witnesses to retrieve information. Concentration can be increased via different methods including eliminating obvious distractions, creating a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and feeling for the witness, encouraging witnesses to their senses and avoid rushing witnesses to retrieve information (Gudjonsson 1992).

Scientific research on memory has provided the base for the techniques discussed above. Studies have indicated that the techniques used in the CIT significantly increase the accuracy and completeness of witnesses' accounts of crime observed, especially in comparison to the standard police interview and with a large decrease in incorrect information and confabulation. Furthermore, evidence has suggested that the CIT has been well received by police officers. Thus, judging from the encouraging results, the four methods of enhancing retrieval are fundamental and should be utilised (Gudjonsson 1992: Howitt 2003).

So far, the principles of memory discussed above apply to eyewitness testimony in general. However, visual memory is involved when required to identify the face of a perpetrator. The same general principles of memory discussed above also apply to visually memory. Recognition is involved when attempting to identify the face of a perpetrator. An identification procedure aims to test whether a witness is able to recognise the face of the suspect (Valentine 2008). In some cases, an unconscious transference may occur in which a witness may recognise a face as being familiar, but labels it as that of the perpetrator which may potentially lead to a mistaken identification (Ainsworth 2000).

Extensive research literature on the factors which affect the ability of eyewitnesses to identify a perpetrator from a line-up is available. However, system variables come to be of interest to psychologists who aim to develop the most reliable methods of obtaining eyewitnesses identification. As we will see below, many of the procedures used by the police to attempt to identify a perpetrator afford potential sources of error (Ainsworth 2000: Valentine 2008).

Mugshots are maybe used if the police have not identified a suspect. Mugshots may involve presenting photographs to the witness of local criminals of similar crimes, in the expectation that the witness may be able to recognise the perpetrator. In mugshot files, all the people are suspects. Thus, crimes committed by an assailant who hold no previous convictions would lead to difficulties. In such circumstances, it may be reasonably assumed that the witness will report that attackers face as not present. However, this is not always case, the police may encourage witnesses to re-peruse the files, resulting in pressure experienced by the witness to pick someone out. This strategy is obviously inappropriate, evidence from research suggests that the more photographs available, the more likely a incorrect person will identified. Thus, many alternatives to this method has been developed resulting in perusing in smaller quantity of photographs.

Further into the investigation, the police may undertake a line-up to gather formal identification evidence. Deffenbacher and collegues (2006) found that prior exposure to photographs of someone who subsequently appears in a line-up increases the probability of a mistaken identification from the line-up. This effect is due to transference of familiarity from the photograph which is mistakenly attributed to having being seen at the crime scene. ->

The simplest identification procedure is to present the witness with one individual and requesting to confirm whether the individual is the culprit or not. Police may use this technique known as 'show-ups' particularly when the police are confronted to a cases where they may have little or no idea as to who may be the suspect yet require confirmation of this suspicion from the witness. Show-ups are suggested to be unsatisfactory as they are more likely to result in misidentifications. Unlike ID parades and photo spreads, showups tend to apply pressure on a witness to identify a particular individual. The problem with this procedure is that because witnesses, particularly victims are restricted to one person to view, they maybe more likely to claim that the person is the perpetrator.

Throughout this paper, many examples of the way in which psychology is relevant to policing has been discussed. We have discussed several factors that can influence the perceived and actual credibility of a witness and how inappropriate questioning techniques results in mistakes by witnesses. Although, a more sufficient understanding of the processes of perception and memory can assist police officers to elicit more accurate information from witnesses. Psychologists have also made beneficial encounters on several reasons why mistaken identifications occur. Drawing on this research, several psychologists have offered suggestions on how identification parades maybe improved. Witnesses are not automatically unreliable; psychologists have contributed immensely to promote good evidence by the police. It is the forensic psychologists role to examine issues which result in both accurate and inaccurate accounts and to assist the criminal justice system in interpreting research findings for the benefit of all parties.