It is without doubt that eyewitnesses to a crime are one of the most important people to the police when trying to get a conviction but we must remember that sometimes they can be un-reliable. Sometimes we cannot recall the exact events that surround the incident or sometimes it can be distorted so that details are lost or inaccurate ones added. In real life it is not necessary to precisely recall specific things in order to use them in every day life e.g.
we do not need to remember exactly what a 10p piece looks like in order to use it to buy a sweet. In other words there are many areas in everyday memory that we do not need to recall exactly.Reconstructive MemoryReconstructive memory basically means what affect the event had on us rather than the precise details surrounding it.
However we must remember that reminiscing on particular events can lead to them being distorted through our prior knowledge and expectations and so care must be taken in dealing with reconstructive memory. Bartlett (1932) carried out pioneering research in this field and it was his findings that have helped us to understand it better. He argued that we do not record memories passively i.e. like we take photographs. He believed that instead of taking exact replicas of the initial stimulus, we weave it with existing knowledge and experience to form a reconstructed memory. This is known as effort after meaning.Bartlett carried out a number if experiments to investigate how people recall things.
In one of his best-known study’s he read English participants a folk tale derived from Red Indian culture called “The war of the ghosts.” This was an unusual story for people from a western culture to understand because it contained unfamiliar supernatural concepts. After an interval, the participants were asked to recall as much about the story as possible.
Bartlett found that their accounts were distorted in several ways with were consistent with a western-world view. Specifically he found the following differences:This shows that schemas are useful in our every day lives as they make our experiences more predictable and use out attentional resources effectively although as Bartlett has said they can sometimes lead to distortions in memory. Schemas and Memory Errors Brewer and Treynes investigated the effects of visual memory by asking 30 participants, one at a time, to wait in a room for 35 seconds. The room was designed to look like an office and contained 61 items in it.Some of these items were items that you would expect to fit into an office-based schema whereas some which were incompatible with this schema i.e. pair of pliers and a brick. In a sudden unexpected recall test participants were more likely to recall items typically associated with an office-based schema such as a desk or a lamp whereas recall of the less unexpected items such as a pair of pliers and the brick was lower.
Most of these errors in recall were called substitutions i.e. the participants tended to falsely recall items that were not actually there based on their own schema expectancy.These findings suggest that the participants were using schemas to ensure the rapid encoding of the visual information during their 35-second stay. At the retrieval stage, the schema influenced recall so that typical items were recalled, even if they were not actually present. Brewer and Treynes also included some bizarre items such as a skull, which was recalled surprisingly frequently.
This is not so easy to explain within schema theory however a revised one put forward by Graesser and Nakamura (1982) accounts for this apparent anomaly. According to this schema-plus tag theory, we store a memory for a specific event with the general schema for that event and we attach to the schema a tag or marker to indicate any particular unexpected or remarkable aspect.List (1986) has shown that schemas can also affect recall of events. She asked people to rate the probability of events associated with a shoplifting scenario.
She then compiled a video different shoplifting acts each of which incorporated some of the events rated as high probability and some that depicted low probability. She showed this video to a completely new set of people one week later and found that they were more likely to recall high rather than low probability events. Also if they were to make inclusion errors these would be ones associated with high probability events.