The results of research into the effect of anxiety on eyewitness testimony have been highly mixed. It is believed that eye witness testimony is most accurate when the anxiety level is somewhere in between low and high.
Research showing that anxiety has a positive effect on eye witness testimony:
- Yuille and Cutshall - they interviewed people who had witnessed a real life shooting and found that recall was very accurate despite high levels of anxiety.
- Evaluation point - however, the people who were subjected to the highest levels of anxiety were nearest to the incident so would have been able to see more clearly what happened.
- Christianson and Hubinette - they interviewed people who had witnessed genuine bank robberies and found that the people who had been subjected to the greatest anxiety had the most detailed and accurate recall.
Research showing that anxiety has a negative effect on eye witness testimony:
- Peters - they interviewed people attending a health clinic for an injection (which would make people anxious) and whilst they were there they spent an equal amount of time with the nurse and the researcher.
- A week later when participants were asked to identify both the nurse and the researcher they found it easier to identify the researcher.
- Loftus – two groups of participants overheard either an argument (violent scene) or a discussion (peaceful scene) followed by a man leaving the room where the argument or discussion took place either holding a knife covered in blood (violent scene) or holding a pen with grease on his hands (peaceful scene).
- They found that people who witnessed the peaceful scene were better at identifying the man later.
- Strength - naturalistic experiments have more ecological validity than lab experiments.
- Weakness / Strength - lab experiments – scientific and replicable – artificial.
- Weakness – does not take into account individual differences - different people respond to anxiety in different ways.
- Weakness - some research could be considered unethical - lab experiments – putting people though unnecessary trauma and anxiety.
- Weakness - the research findings are inconclusive.
- Weakness - different incidents may raise different types of anxiety.