The Eye-Witness Test: Are you sure you saw that?

“If our minds don’t work like we think they do, then what exactly is going on?”

By Matt Johnson, The Systems Scientist

We are so sure of what we see. We think our minds work like the video camera on our hand-held devices. We think our minds store this information with perfect accuracy. We think we can explain in great detail and precision what we saw earlier that day, albeit at a baseball game or at a cousin’s birthday party. The problem is, that’s not how memory works. That’s how we think it works. But that’s not how it works.

What happens if an additional layer, say stress, is added to our experience?  How does the stress impact our precarious ability of witnessing an event? If our minds don’t work like we think they do, then what exactly is going on? And what does this mean for eye-witness testimony? And ultimately, what does this mean for public and science policy?

There has been ample research done on this very issue; that is, the validity of eye-witness accounts. In fact, social psychologists have explored and studied this issue in great detail and for a few decades now in criminal justice environments. And their research has provided some interesting findings and insights. But the purpose of this article is to provide an opportunity to participate in a science experiment while gaining some interesting insights about the veracity of eye-witness testimony. Let’s get to it.

In this short video, you will be provided instructions. The instructions are simple. After the short experiment, you will be asked a series of questions. Some of you will already be familiar with this experiment. You should do quite well. But still, are you sure you saw that? Provide your findings and insights from the experiment in the comments section below.

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