The following sample essay on Study of The Influence of Leading Questions On The Testimony Of Eyewitnesses. The hypothesis was that leading questions would have a significant effect on memory recall. This draws on results of a study by Loftus & Zanni whose research indicated that leading questions increase the number of incorrectly recalled details.
Participants were selected by opportunity sampling. The chosen study group were given a briefing and told that they could leave at anytime if they wished to.
The group watched a clip from Crimewatch UK, and completed a questionnaire based on their viewing. There were two forms of questionnaire. The first was a control questionnaire that did not include leading questions. It used the critical word ‘a’. The second was an experimental questionnaire which used the critical word ‘the’, and which included five leading questions.
The statistical analysis later conducted showed that the effect of leading questions is largely insignificant, because they had little effect on the number of incorrectly recalled details. Therefore the experimental hypothesis can be rejected and the null hypothesis, which states leading questions have no effect on the recall of events, can be accepted. In order to ascertain whether or not leading questions have an effect on eyewitness we must define what a leading question is. Loftus describes a leading question as a question that portrays a certain desirable answer to the participant. For example a leading question may be ‘did you see the red car?’ this is leading as the critical word, ‘the’ in this instance implies that there was a red car, even though this may not be the case.
The question should be ‘did you see a red car?’ for it to be truly valid.
Loftus conducted a study into the area of leading questions to provide a more valid representation of the given events in police interviews and questionnaire situations. This study was designed to see if such leading questions would affect the recall in a crime recall situation. According to Loftus and Palmers (1974) leading questions can severely affect the outcome of a questionnaire or interview, even when only a singular emotive word is used. Loftus and Palmer conducted a study using a real life event and a range of both emotionally charged and neutral words. In their study participants were shown a clip of a car crashes and later asked to complete a questionnaire. Some of the participants were given emotionally charged words such as collided and smashed. Others were given words with less emotionally charged words such as bumped, hit and contacted.
They found that not only does the critical word change the amount of incorrectly recalled facts, but also the emotional significance of that word. For example the word ‘smashed’ was found to develop answers of higher speeds than less emotionally charged words. Zanni & Loftus (1975) used two types of questions. They used the indefinite non leading question, e.g. “did you see a broken headlight?” whereby there is no misleading of information. The other type of question was a definite leading question, e.g. “did you see the broken headlight?” Their study investigated the validity of recalled eyewitness events. This was achieved by asking whether a leading question affects a participant’s response to certain critical words. Participants were shown a reconstruction of a crime and given questionnaires including both leading and non leading questions. This simple change in the independent variable had a noticeable effect in the amount of false responses, the dependent variable.
This study will be an exactly replication of Loftus ; Zannis study, however a different video and questionnaires will be used. The aim of my study is to research the effect of leading questions on Eye Witness Testimony. The experimental hypothesis is that leading questions increase the number of incorrectly recalled events. My null hypothesis is that leading questions have no effect on the validity of recalled events. The study was designed as a laboratory experiment with an independent measures design. The sample group was selected into two conditions, a control ‘a’ condition and an experimental ‘the’ condition. The independent variable was the critical word in the question used. This could have been either ‘a’ for the control group, or ‘the’ for the experimental group. The independent variable would have affected the outcome of the dependent variable, in this instance, the number of incorrect facts recalled.
The independent measures design was used to test both groups at the same time, reducing the amount of time needed to conduct the experiment. The laboratory experiment was useful for the study as any extraneous variables could be controlled because it did not affect the results. Noise levels have been found to reduce participant’s concentration in a study. In order to avoid this, the study was conducted during the day in a room in the middle of school. This meant exterior rooms were quiet and noise did not affect concentration levels.
The study involved deceiving the participants about its aim. They believed it was about memory performance and not leading questions. To counter this, a briefing was performed before the start of the study. Participants were informed of their right to withdraw at any time, and they were reassured that any data collected would remain completely confidential. After the study was conducted the participants were debriefed. The aims of the study were explained. The group were offered the opportunity to withdraw their results. The experimenters contact details were given to the participants. In case they wished to discuss any issues raised by the experiment.