Sunday, June 02, 2013

Weapon Focus

Weapon Focus refers to an eyewitness’s concentration on a weapon and the resultant reduction in ability to remember other details of the crime. It is expected that the weapon will draw central attention and in a crime where a weapon is involved, it is not unusual for a witness to be able to describe the weapon in much more detail than the person holding it. They are able to report to the police many details about the weapon (its size, its colour, and so on), and often many details about the hand that was holding the weapon (e.g., whether the person was wearing any rings, a watch or a bracelet). However, because of this focus, the witness may have a relatively poor memory for other aspects of the scene, including crucial information such as what the perpetrator looked like. Witnesses tend to get 'fuzzy', many studies show that eyewitness identifications of the perpetrator are systematically less accurate in crimes involving weapons - presumably because the witness's attention was focused on the weapon, not on the perpetrator's face. Thus, eyewitness testimony can be largely affected by the phenomenon.
Loftus et al. (1987) examined this phenomenon by presenting subject-witnesses with a series of slides depicting an event in a fast-food restaurant. Half of the subjects saw a customer point a gun at the cashier; the other half saw him hand the cashier a check. In Experiment 1, eye movements were recorded while subjects viewed the slides. Results showed that subjects made more eye fixations on the weapon than on the check, and fixations on the weapon were of a longer duration than fixations on the check. As a result they were less likely to identify the customer in an identity parade than those who had seen the checkbook version.
In Experiment 2, the memory of subjects in the weapon condition was poorer than the memory of subjects in the check condition: In Experiment 1 similar, though only marginally significant, performance effects were obtained. This study provided the first direct empirical support for weapon focus.
Attorney: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
Witness: We both do.
Attorney: Voodoo?
Witness: We do.
Attorney: You do?
Witness: Yes, voodoo.

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