Environmental Visual Distraction during Retrieval Affects the Quality, Not the Quantity, of Eyewitness Recall

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Abstract

Eyewitnesses instructed to close their eyes during retrieval remember more correct, and fewer incorrect, visual and auditory details. These effects are assumed to arise because eye-closure reduces distraction from the retrieval environment, and so increased environmental distraction should have the reverse effects. To test this idea, 48 participants witnessed a video clip before verbally answering questions about visual and auditory details in the presence of irrelevant visual distraction varying in amount and predictability. More distraction led to fewer correct and more incorrect visual and auditory details being recalled, but the predictability of the distraction had no effect. These findings suggest that environmental distraction impacts upon memory quality rather than quantity, a pattern that may be hard for interviewers to detect. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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