Negative emotion and eyewitness memory
Snow, Mark D.
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Witnessing or being the victim of a crime is often emotionally distressing, and this emotional distress reaction can influence the storage and retrieval of event-related memory. Eyewitness memory, therefore, cannot be adequately understood without an account of the memorial effects of negative emotion. On this point, however, there remains a considerable degree of inconsistency in both the methods and findings of existing research. In this dissertation I sought to clarify the nature of this effect. Across two experiments, participants (N = 204, N = 132) viewed either a Negative or Neutral version of a video of a staged social interaction. Either immediately or after a one-week delay, participants reported their memory for the video. I assessed participants’ recall (Study 1 and 2) and lineup identification (Study 1) performance. In both studies, those who viewed the Negative version of the video demonstrated superior recall performance for central event details than did those who viewed the Neutral version, though this did not appear to extend to lineup identification performance (Study 1). The Negative video group also reported more subjective and vague information than did the Neutral group. The current results, together with that of a growing number of studies, provide grounds for doubting the prevailing view among eyewitness researchers – that emotional distress causes generalized impairment of eyewitness memory. The current findings speak in favor of a pattern of selective memory enhancement. I end with a discussion of several practical and theoretical issues that were brought to the fore in the present work.