Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

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Deryn Strange

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Trauma and its consequences are ubiquitous in the courtroom. Research on memory for trauma suggests there is reason to suspect that traumatized people may be prone to memory errors. Additionally, jurors' views of witnesses are important as they tend to mistrust evidence given by witnesses they believe to be not credible. If traumatized people are prone to errors, is there a way to safeguard against those errors and make jurors more trusting of their memory reports?

In Part One, I polled participants on their views toward traumatized people and trauma memory (Study 1). Results of this study suggest people have somewhat positive views of traumatized people's memory and competency to testify. Results from Study 2 imply that these views may be unsubstantiated.

In Study 2, participants watched a traumatic film with missing scenes. Some saw the scenes unfold in their correct temporal sequence; others saw a random sequence. I manipulated participants' conscious processing of that film via an instruction: some were told to focus on the meaning of the event (conceptual), some on the sensory details (data-driven), and some received no instruction (control). A week later, I gave participants a memory test. False recognition of missing clips was high but did not differ across groups. However, experimental participants were more likely than controls to falsely remember the traumatic, compared to non-traumatic, missing clips. Moreover, self-reported disorganization appeared more important to the malleability of people's trauma memories than objective measures.

In Part Two (Study 3), I investigated whether cross-examination safeguarded participants' memory reports. Participants watched the same film used in Study 2. Then, participants underwent direct examination, which included misleading questions. Participants were accurate on specific questions, but they frequently yielded to misleading questions.Two days later, participants returned for an unexpected cross-examination and memory recognition test. Participants' interview and recognition accuracy worsened after cross-examination. Participants misremembered clips that were asked about in cross-examination more often than clips that were not. This research lends further evidence for the malleability of trauma memories and the need for the general public to be educated about this issue. Possible theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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