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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Dead Wrong: Research on Eyewitness Testimony

Classroom resources to explore witness inaccuracy.
By Shari Wargo
Credit: iStock

The unreliability of eyewitness reports is well known, and, thankfully, the court's reliance on such testimony is changing as resources such as video and DNA evidence become more sophisticated and more accessible. (See the Edutopia.org article "Bearing Witness: DNA Throws the Book at Mistaken Identity.")

Whether you teach history, sociology, psychology, or science, the research into eyewitness testimony can make for fascinating classroom learning. Take a look at these resources:

Articles, Transcripts, Talks, and Research About Eyewitness Testimony

"Capital Punishment, Fatally Flawed"
An editorial from the Baltimore Sun opposing the death penalty.

Elizabeth Loftus
A Frontline interview with a psychology professor distinguished for her research on memory, part of a feature called “What Jennifer Saw.”

Elizabeth F. Loftus
A page on the University of California, Irvine, Web site that lists selected publications from the memory expert, and other resources.

"Expert Testimony on Eyewitness Identification: A New Pair of Glasses for the Jury"
A preview of an article in the American Criminal Law Review.

"Eyewitness Testimony"
A page on the Marquette University Web site that provides links to analysis of claims made by witnesses of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Eyewitness Testimony
A page on the Web site of the University of California at San Diego that gives a snapshot of information to get discussion started.

"Eyewitness Testimony Doesn't Make It True"
A commentary, originally published in the Hartford Courant, on the Yale Law School Web site.

"Eyewitness Testimony, Memory, and Assassination Research"
A paper by Dennis Ford and Mark Zaid on the Marquette University Web site that discusses the fallibility of eyewitness testimony in the context of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

"The Eyewitnesses"
A page on the JFK Assassination Resources Online Web site that features a list of links to eyewitness testimony about John F. Kennedy's assassination, the killing of police officer J.D. Tippit, and the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald.

"Misidentification: The Caprices of Eyewitness Testimony in Criminal Cases"
An article published by the Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy.

"The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony"
An account from the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies of a talk by Stanford University psychology professor Barbara Tversky and Stanford University law professor George Fisher.

"Wrongful Conviction: 50% of Mistaken Eyewitnesses Certain After Positive Feedback"
The role of suggestibility in memory, from PsyBlog Web site.

Eyewitness Testimony and the Human Mind
Eyewitness resources compiled by Iowa State University psychology professor Gary L. Wells.

"Eyewitness Testimony and Memory"
An essay in About.com's Agnoticism/Atheism section.

"The Magic of the Mind"
An excerpt from Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham.

Engaging Eyewitness-Memory Tests

False Memory and Eyewitness Testimony
Video of a presentation by magician Brian Brushwood.

Testing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony
A science-project idea for testing witness reliability.

Books About Memory

Essentials of Human Memory
Eyewitness Memory: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives
Memory and Emotion
Available for reading online.

Shari Wargo is a former editorial assistant at Edutopia.

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