• eyewitness memory;
  • memory for weapons;
  • weapon focus;
  • prior frameworks for cognition


The present research addressed eyewitness memory for weapons, specifically for a modern semi-automatic pistol and an antique flintlock, in order to address the influence of weapon novelty on recall for the given weapon. Additionally, the effect of explanatory backstory was examined in the same context; respondents were given prior information, which was either consistent or inconsistent with the presence of the flintlock in the scene, in order to gauge the influence of appropriate or inappropriate explanatory cognitive context. Finally, the effects of these variables on line-up identification of the ‘suspect’ holding the given weapon were addressed. The results showed that weapon type did not influence recall accuracy for given weapons, although explanatory backstory did have a significant effect here, as initially predicted. Both weapon type and explanatory backstory produced significant effects on weapon recall errors, with the exotic weapon and the more prosaic backstory producing larger numbers of mistakes. Neither of these variables was associated with significant differences in line-up performance. These results indicate the importance of prior cognitive context, as well as the physical appearance of weapons, in a full understanding of eyewitness processing of scenes involving firearms. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.